TopoFusion is GPS Mapping software for Windows. Hi I'm Scott Morris and I'm a lifelong mountain biker, trail mapper and programmer. Diary of Scott Morris is a Mountain bike obsession from the author of TopoFusion / Trackleaders.
I think we reached the interior of New Zealand right as it finally became summer.
I can’t say we saw all that much of the friendly little fireball in the sky previous to this. But we were about to learn just how strong the NZ sun can be. I don’t know if it was the hole in the ozone layer (which is actually shrinking these days), the clear air, or just that our bodies were expecting winter, not summer. But the sun seemed to have a special intensity when it did shine and on bluebird days.
poppies! did these come from north america, or europe, or?
Heavily sunburnt kiwis and foreigners were a common sight. We slathered the sunscreen on thick.
Nonetheless, it was a good time to climb the ‘highest road in NZ’, the Nevis Rd. Steep climbing, open views and few vehicles, it was lovely. NZ doesn’t really have an off-road culture, of the type we are used to in the western US. ATVs seem to stick to the farms, while jeeps and 4x4s are rarely seen. It works out well for us sensitive bike tourist types.
Our destination for the night. Also the first hut we had to ourselves.
You too can stay here, for the low price of five New Zealand dollars (roughly $3 american). Oh, but you have to climb 4000 feet or so to get here.
Many of the huts have maps and DOC brochures relevant to the area. As we drank tea and kicked back in our luxury accommodations, it started to sound like we could stay high and ride ridgelines instead of dropping back to the valley floor as we’d planned.
Information on the tracks/roads was sparse. We didn’t know whether this was something people did, or whether it was a good idea, at all. Very few mountain bikers had signed the hut log, and a few of them mentioned being flown to ‘the top’ in a helicopter!
It was just a magic night, sleeping in our own little hut, perched high above New Zealand, out of the wind while dreaming of tomorrow’s unanticipated adventure.
Taking the adventure route was the correct choice. Some of the best riding of our trip, culminating here at ‘the obelisk.’
Though the gales were howling, the views and riding made them easier to ignore.
From the obelisk we again chose the adventure route, with very little beta. As we dropped off the ridgeline we could see tiny little Alexandra below, and it felt a little like the Manapouri powerline. We were ready to walk and scramble if needed.
Sometimes you win — the descent was ‘surprisingly rideable.’
We really liked Alexandra and the quasi-desert around it. The sun shone bright the whole time we were there.
Yet the trail ahead called even though it was a place we wanted to linger. It felt like a genuinely kiwi town, and everyone was kind. I suppose by genuinely kiwi I might only mean that it’s a town that isn’t really on the main tourist route, so we were surrounded by kiwis.
Thanks to one such kiwi, Geof, who we met at the coffee shop and is a past TD rider, we knew of a ‘rustic’ hut on our way north. This one is just for travelers and has been that way for some hundred years. We are travelers! The timing was just right and up this high the night had a chill, so the hut was welcome.
Singletrack! Sadly it seems that most true singletrack we encountered was more along the lines of a bike park or stacked loop system. That meant that with a some exceptions, they often couldn’t be a part of a thru-route.
Luckily Wanaka has all sorts of trails and every mode of recreation you can think of, including XC (as in covering country, not looping) trails.
We would ride along the banks of impossibly blue and raging Clutha river many times in our adventures around Wanaka.
Our goal was to ‘have christmas’ in Wanaka with Eszter’s brother and his girlfriend. It was a fantastic plan, and in fact the whole idea of being out of the USA for Christmas was brilliant as well. Besides the deep and thoughtful rejection of all forms of Christianity that I have settled on, my patience for the overblown consumerism and stress of ‘the holidays’ is pretty low.
Things were refreshingly laid back in NZ. We barely even knew the holidays were coming until right before, and no one gave us fake and patronizing holiday greetings for weeks leading up.
We marveled at how empty the Wanaka area was (and the trails — this photo is from Roy’s Peak).
The crowds did come. After Christmas the place blew up with kiwis ‘on holiday.’ It hadn’t really occurred to us that it would be a camping holiday, but it makes perfect sense. It’s summer and school is out! Camping for Christmas, or Christmas in the summer, what a great idea!
There was a holiday park just outside town that swelled to 2000 people, all camping in the kiwi style with caravans and big canvas tents. It was so cool, and something to see.
We took advantage of being on bike and found secluded spots outside of town.
For Christmas, we went hiking. Mt. Aspiring National Park.
The Rob Roy glacier and associated ‘scene’ defies description. One of the most complex and stunning places we visited, by far.
Andras and Vanessa had to head back to Queenstown, but we continued on into the park, amazingly by bike! The first 10km is a grassy two track that almost everyone walks and no one drives. For some incredible reason, it’s open to bikes!
This gave us a slight advantage in getting up higher with our day.
It seems the red huts are the truly alpine ones. I’d like to visit more red huts…
Liverpool hut was a little scrambly to get to, in a uniquely New Zealand way. Roots make good ladders and hand holds, it’s true.
Riding the national park ‘two track’ back out. The weather called for major wind and rain, to come, otherwise we would have surely stayed at the red hut.
Instead we spent a semi-restful night, then woke up to what appeared to be massive tailwinds. Indeed, it was nuclear.
Free ride back to town. Get drenched a little. Dry off at holiday park with 2000 kiwis…
The crash on the beach in the sun after it clears out. Lovely.
“Don’t worry honey, it’s a shortcut.” It was an ambitious day ride, but we wanted to see what Grandview had to offer. This shortcut behind farms didn’t have anything to offer other than scratchy plants and no tread. Win some, lose some, we abandoned.
We figured hike-a-bike is easier unloaded.
So let’s have Scott do the math and wholly underestimate the mileage. I might have called it 60 miles and it was more like 80.
You know, pretty average. Par for the course for us.
Views were worth it. The sun beat us down and water ran alarmingly low.
A killer downhill, made even better by the surprise appearance of a clear and cold spring, right on the side of the trail. Salvation!
We were wrecked, but our time was starting to run short. We had some highway to ride and were leery of the traffic. So we planned to get up super early.
The fly in that ointment was that it was new years. We camped in a free spot not near any civilization, with a handful of campervans that were dead silent…. until midnight. Then it rained and they went inside. And it stopped raining, and even though the new year was more than an hour old, screaming and banging things resumed.
Ah, well. We got up early anyway, forded the river to avoid a backtrack, and beat traffic and wind over the pass.
The wind caught up with us on a dirt road up the Ahuriri Valley, where we hoped to reach a hut for the night. 30 mph headwinds had other plans for us. Even though Ez is much more resilient to wind than I am, for some reason I was content to plug out the 10 or 15 miles at 2-3 mph. I admit it didn’t really make sense. After an hour and a half we flipped it.
Due to that detour we got flagged down on the highway by none other than Scott and Jo, who live in Christchurch and are bikepackers. That was a fortunate meeting!
We hopped on the “Alps 2 Ocean” cycle route in the town of Omarama, which was my favorite placename to purposely pronounce incorrectly.
There was some purpose built grade 3 singletrack on this one, somewhat to the chagrin of a few folks we met on touring bikes. Hey, you can always walk… we do it all the time!
The high mountain platter! One of the best meals we had.
We turned off the cycle trail for an out/back to a hut up another stunning glacially carved valley. At the hut we were joined by some college aged kiwis from Christchurch who were very new to tramping. It was fun to see all the little things they fretted over, but the card and role playing type games we played with them were even more fun. And then went to bed at a reasonable hour. They may have been new to tramping but someone had taught them good hut etiquette.
Another hut win and good people we would have never met otherwise.
Back at the lodge for a second high mountain platter the next day (yes, it was that good) the place was inundated by all sorts of folks riding the route. Some on e-bikes, mostly unloaded, all seeming to love it. Go NZ cycle trails!
Purpose built cycling gates… just a little too narrow for poor Donkey (nickname for Eszter’s bike).
These canals are part of a power generating scheme, and also used to hatch salmon. Apparently it’s legal to pull any escapees out of the canal.
We didn’t have time to stay in the town of Twizel. Mt. Cook and free camping to the north called us.
Though Cook was an out/back (or in/out as they say in NZ) for us, mostly on highway, as we watched the sun set on it from camp, we had no choice but to get up early and try to beat the campervans.
It worked. The last few kms are on a gravel bike path, as the steep walls and glacier falls pull you in.
As with national parks in the USA, you need to leave the bikes behind in order to actually see the place.
Pretty darn nice camping in a very informal site for a national park. Having a bike meant we could get a bit further out from the vehicles, and access to the cook shelters was fantastic for the morning and when it rained.
We stuck to the main touristy hikes, and while they were busy, it wasn’t that much by national park standards.
This trail is pretty much a giant staircase. There was some quality suffering going on, but it seemed like most people were making it.
Kiwis love their signs, and many are humorous to us. “… may be prone to kea damage.”
We could have stayed longer, but our time was running out. We rode until sunset, trying to get as much of the pavement done in the evening. Just as we needed to camp a tiny piece of DOC land presented itself — the Pukaki Climbing Boulders! Perfect. A 5 min hike-a-bike took us to this stunning campsite, and just enough off the road. One of our best sites.
Back to cyclotour mode, to finish up the Alps to Ocean in the opposite direction.
We hit Lake Tekapo where our dirt route ran out, and so did our time. Time to make preparations to leave country, sadly.
Time to savor the last flat whites and cheese scones. We could have easily stayed up to the 3 month no-visa limit, but work season was about to ramp up for me, and internet access had proven challenging throughout. We took a bus back to Christchurch.
A flightless bird is the logo for NZ’s air force. Love it.
We had one more task, which was to see an actual kiwi (bird), even if was just in a zoo. We did that in Christchurch, and then were kindly hosted by Scott and Jo, whom we had met a few weeks earlier on the road.
I don’t know how I don’t have a picture of them, or the ‘wee scenic wander’ we took by their house, or of Indie the heeler cross, our favorite NZ dog. It was a lovely quick visit to Christchurch and an easy transition to traveling back to the states.
We left quite satisfied with our time, falling in love with many things about New Zealand, and definitely feeling like there was plenty more to go and see. The thought of returning every year in Dec/Jan certainly was discussed.
As the days grew short this year (2017) and the Scamp seemed to grow smaller and smaller, the choice became clear — pack up the bikes and head back! So here we are, as I write this, about to launch again for more kiwi adventures.
We rolled south from Te Anau, on the outskirts of Fjordlands national park. The pedal down was beautiful, including this lovely beach.
TopoFusion users might recognize this photo, which became 2017’s splash screen on the Pro version of the software. TopoFusion is on sale this weekend, for Small Biz Saturday through Cyber Monday, too…
So many cool rocks in the world. Ez loves to collect.
We paid a few bucks to have a local bloke ferry us across the river. Apparently I say my name incorrectly, because no matter how many times I said it, or how I tried to enunciate it, he couldn’t understand me. Finally he got it and I thought back to the couple we met from Invercargil. Down south the Kiwi accent is a little bit Scottish, and there is definitely a Scottish way to say “Scott”. I didn’t really think there were too many ways to pronounce my name, but I was wrong!
On the other side were tramping trails and a hut we wanted to stay at.
NZ is a geologically young place, which shows in the steepness and unstable nature of the mountains. These trees, soil and grass were curiously melting off the hill, seemingly before our eyes.
A beach walk along lake Manipouri was called for. As the night attempted to descend (long days!) more and more people started to show up at the hut. We naively thought it would be empty since you can only access it by water. A tramping club was the bulk of the group and they were quite interesting to talk to. We got a little beta on DOC camping and other rules.
They got a huge fire going on the beach (we didn’t realize that was legal) and though we all got many sandfly bites, it was a special evening. A japanese musician played us some tunes, and one in the tramping club got so worked up over Trump getting elected he had to take a walk to cool off. It was hilarious, and quite the night.
Always take the boat ride. This was generally a return trip ride, but they’ll sell you a one way ticket because there is a sneaky way to exit on a bike and not a boat.
Always take the free coffee.
We didn’t see any mice on the road over to the Doubtful Sound. With no bears or large mammals, critters aren’t much of a worry in NZ.
A hefty climb (unloaded since it’s out/back) took us to a stunning and misty view of Doubtful.
Then it was time to retrieve our luggage from the bush and commence a massive climb out of the valley and up to ‘the tops.’
Why is there a road in this ridiculously steep and beautiful country? Certainly a dubious place for what was a pretty decent road.
Pylons! Lake Manipouri generates power through giant underground tunnel, something I’d never heard of. The water ends up in the Doubtful Sound, which is 10km away, dropping 750 feet on the way.
The problem? See where I’m taking the photo from? And where the next pylons are? Yeah, there’s no road. They didn’t need to build it, instead using a huuuuuge run of cable between pylons.
No problem, have bikes, will carry. I would really like to know who the first mountain bikers were that saw this connection and decided it was a good idea to attempt. Kindred spirits of mine, surely.
Navigating a steep section just on the edge of a slip. Loaded bikes were not ideal, but not so bad either.
Success, road base again! What a beautiful connection.
We spent another couple days riding out of there and camping in what felt like an incredibly remote area.
When we finally emerged back on pavement the wind was absolutely ripping. Any indecision about which way we were going was over.
Done and dusted, wind at our backs, we took the free ride to Tuatapere.
My Redpoint had been given the name “Sausage” earlier in the trip, so I had to. Tuatapere may have been the sausage capital, but we sure loved the town, or rather the quirky holiday park we spent a few nights at. They had incredible food, good wifi and lots of room.
Somehow I talked Eszter into doing the Humpridge Track, which we had seen advertised all over the south island. We were able to book one night at the fancy hut and use our hut pass for the second. There was apparently no other way to see it (without paying a night and supporting the trust of the trail).
This sketchy swingbridge said it was damaged and had been downgraded from ‘max 4 people’ to ‘max 1 person’.
Tramping on the beach? Yes please.
Despite the luxury billing on this tramp, the climb is no joke! It worked us over good.
I’ve always been fascinated by places you can stay that don’t have roads, and this was by far the fanciest one I’ve seen. Everything is helicoptered in. The ‘hut’ is perched just at treeline, in quite a spot.
Coastal alpine. Stunning. This is the day hike you can do above the hut.
The Luxury hut thing doesn’t seem to be working out for them. They could sleep 48, but there were only four of us so we almost had the place to ourselves. The dad and daughter from Australia that we shared it with were quite fun, even if the daughter had trouble understanding us!
As we sat in the dining room, looking out the huge window, the wind started blowing columns of snow in. It was something to see, and assuaged our guilt at splurging on ‘luxury’ just a slight bit.
South coast forest, wow.
Our next night was anything but luxury — it was in this little schoolhouse. It was the only building that remained after a boomtown logging operation went bust 100 years or so ago. We had walked on the line and over trestles that had briefly transported trees out of the bush.
Somehow we crammed 30 or 40 people, many in their teens, into that little ‘hut.’ The bulk of them were a christian school group. The best part was when they played a highly censored version of Cards against Humanity. Quite entertaining, and with earplugs we slept well.
Hey look, a photo of both of us, how rare.
Endless entertainment as the waves crashed into rocks and cliffs. We looked for dolphins and penguins, only seeing the former.
Thick bush along the coastline. Beautiful.
We retrieved our bikes from said thick bush at the end of the track and commenced a long and somewhat ill-advised ride back north. We wanted to make it to Wanaka to spend Christmas with Eszter’s brother. But no good routes were really presenting themselves. Just lots of pavement on farm roads.
sheeps! so many sheeps!
Normally that wouldn’t be so bad, and indeed most of the roads we found for the next several days were low traffic.
But… the wind. We’d ridden it south after Manipouri, but now were paying the piper trying to get back north. Grass pollen had started to be an issue for both of us. Too much time spent out in the wind.
The town of Lumsden allows free camping in the town park. So cool. And we were ready to get on the ‘Round the Mountains’ cycle route, back on dirt, the next day!
But… the wind. We set up our tent on the lee side of the train, which was the only thing giving shelter in the park. That worked pretty well until 1 or 2 AM when the direction shifted ever so much, and we had the classic ‘tent to the face’ type of situation on our hands. Our solution, since it wasn’t cold or storming, was to take down the tent and simply sleep on it. That worked, but it was a miserable night.
We noticed cracks in a few places on our tent poles the next day. Tape, yeah, tape should take care of that right?
Round the Mountains was a relief to rejoin, especially when we got to ride *inside* hedges. Much of the farmland in NZ has planned hedges of trees, so we’d seen them everywhere. When oriented correctly they provide good wind blocks, but this was the first time we got to go inside them!
Round the Mountains is an NZ cycle trail, and the time/effort/money that went into it shows. This was only one of many giant bridges on the route. A little accommodation we stayed at (indoors, out of the pollen and wind!) even had a cute children’s book written about riding the route.
It’s cool when you have routes just for you (touring cyclists). We really love and appreciate the NZ cycle trail program.
From Round the Mountain we transitioned into the more central part of the South Island, which is drier and almost desert-like in places. As it became summer, the weather also improved. It was time to ride high and head on to Wanaka!
Queenstown. Adventure capital of NZ. It’s a funny place, and also a beautiful one.
Kaitlyn was resting and getting her knee checked out while we did shorter day trips.
Including the bike park. We had pretty capable bikes, so why not?
Deluxe accommodation in Queenstown. The grass was just barely wide enough for our tiny tent. Being outside was somewhat preferable to the ‘partying’ that was going on inside the hostel. Flexibility, make due with what you can.
Now these are accommodations! We met up with Andras, Eszter’s brother, and he showed us his secret camp spot above town. Somehow we crammed five people and four bikes into Yeti, his campervan. And we all returned to the campervan when it rained.
A Thanksgiving feast was prepared, with the Remarkables (jagged mountain range) and a rainbow as the background. Life was pretty darn good.
Mountainbiking with Andras, near his campsite. Stunning mountains and being more interior they aren’t completely covered in rain forest. Thus far we’d spent a lot of time in the trees, where us westerners that are addicted to endless views tend to get ancy.
Kaitlyn’s knee checked out OK, but it needed rest. They found a free place to stay in nearby Wanaka, while we set our sights on a nearby ‘Tramp.’
The Greenstone Caples track! Hut passes were secured. Optimistic readings of the forecast were made (i.e. Eszter read it optimistically and convinced me to go for it). Somehow we talked Andras into giving us a ride out to the trailhead, which was on a dirt road. And that dirt road had several yellow signs with exclamation points on them.
Often an exclamation point means a ford on a dirt road. These were deep ones. He let us out and we started the 10km trek to the trailhead. About halfway a van full of middle school girls picked us up. Wahoo!
It was our first exposure to popular ‘tramping’ with huts that often fill up.
Huts may be full, but the track is generally empty. And generally beautiful. And this one was very wet. We were often crossing water, or walking in bogs, or just generally walking in water.
Favorite NZ bird? The fantail.
We discovered that if we stay in huts we can easily carry 3 days of food in our Osprey packs.
Walking through deeply carved glacial valleys, past thousands of waterfalls, we also discovered what we already suspected: to see some of the best stuff (e.g. national parks), we needed to ditch the bikes and get out on foot.
Errr, get out on boat! The best way to continue south to the Fjordlands and our next tramp was to take a 40 minute boat ride to the start of the ‘Around the Mountains’ cycle route.
Free coffee in hand, sitting on bean bags on the deck, yes we felt like we were winning at life. Any time you can take a boat ride on a bike trip, you probably should.
The route on the other side of the lake felt remote and surrounded by unfamiliar mountains. Just what we like.
A 10km diversion along the shoreline of the next major lake took us to a hut. We had the hut pass and were determined to use it as much as we could.
We shared this hut with an older couple from Invercargill. They were ever so kind and fun to talk to as well. We’d ask them a question and they’d respond, “Ahhh, yeeeees.” They were old-school trampers, carrying giant packs, sub-freezing sleeping bags and giant billies (water pots). They must have boiled 10L of water while we were there — stove on the entire time.
A steep and overgrown climb above the hut let us survey the area. Whooeeee.
Next up, another hut, along the Te Araroa trail (the long distance route across both islands). A young french couple joined us, pulling out their instruments to serenade us to sleep with original and folky french songs. It was just magic, and we were beginning to see the magic of the hut system.
In Te Anau, we had reservations for two nights on the famous Kepler Track (tramp). But a little bit of time to kill until those ‘sniped’ (last minute) reservations were ready.
Local mountainbiking trails were on the docket, including a jump over a ‘mini’ (mr. bean car) that had been junked on the hillside.
And birds! This is a Kaka, one of the mountain parrots with whom we’d start to get to know soon enough. These are hilariously mischievous birds, and stunningly beautiful, too.
Rainbow Chicken! Also know as Takahe, these guys are seriously endangered. It’s amazing such flightless birds survived the (not all that recent) invasion of homo sapiens.
We ditched our bikes in the bush and began the rather massive ascent to the Luxmore hut. The Kepler Track is a ‘great walk’ and thus is pretty popular.
We reached the hut with time to spare. Despite the gales about the tops, we ventured out to climb Luxmore peak. The next day was forecast to be nothing but cloud and rain, so we wanted to see the views while we could.
Being us, the ridgeline return called to us more than a track return the way we’d came. It was a fun ridge and then open tussocks back to the hut.
We dallied in the hut the next day, putting together a puzzle with ‘grumpy magoo’ (as we called him) from San Francisco. I think the fact that he had to stay in a hut grumped him out more than the weather. Who likes a roof when it’s pissing rain out?
I do! I do!
There was a limestone cave nearby, so we went to check that out before setting off down the track.
Most of the day was spent above bushline, walking in the rain. It was disappointing to not see the views we knew were there. The mystery of the place pulled us in, instead, as we only got glimpses here and there. We looked at plants and finer details.
It’s the fjordlands, and a rainforest, you know. A sunny day is a blessing.
At the lower hut there was also much to explore. A short hike took us to a magnificent waterfall. We discovered a scribble in one of the books in the hut mentioning glow worms nearby.
Darkness didn’t fall until 10pm, so everyone else was going to bed in the hut when we ventured out.
We heard Kiwis calling and stamping in the darkness. And we found and were able to photograph glow worms, too. What a place this is.
A rowdy group of Keas (mountain parrots) decided to wake everyone in the hut up at 5am. It was getting light out and I think they’d learned that if they make a racket, dumb tourists like us will rouse and they will have some entertainment. Silly Keas.
We were out of sniper hut reservations and facing a bit of a long walk back to our bikes. At the far point of the circuit, we decided why not hike back along the ridgetops, hoping that the weather forecast written on the chalkboard in the hut came true:
“Becoming fine…. EVERYWHERE!”
(Everywhere? Everywhere! I like the sound of that).
It was pure clouds as we climbed several thousand feet back up to bushline, somewhat dubiously of the chalkboard and hut warden’s prediction.
But then… hints of light.
We were climbing out of the clouds, and they were lifting!
All that had been hidden the day before was revealing itself.
It was a magic ridgline walk.
Hi Keas! I bet you’d like some rubber from our shoes or some of our food.
Topping off water, Fjordlands style. You don’t really worry about going thirsty here.
Yay, tramping! Our bikes were waiting for us back in the bush. We decided we really liked the mode of bike touring between tramps, then getting out on foot for a few days.
We’re flying back to New Zealand in just a few days. That means I’m more than a year behind here. So it’s time to recount a little of our visit to those lovely little islands in the southern hemisphere.
We’re going back this year because we love New Zealand — the landscapes, the people, the birds, the place. We’re also going back because we love daylight, and the northern hemisphere is running short on that. The little Scamp trailer is quite dandy and all, but when the sun goes down at 5pm, 360 cubic feet of space for two people is… a little tight. Beyond all that we’re also going because we can. We can park our van and trailer, leaving behind minimal stuff and almost no expenses. To not take advantage of such ease of multi-month travel would be a little sad. And finally, it’s the (much deserved) off-season for trackleaders.com. There aren’t that many events to track in Dec/Jan (hallelujah!), so it’s my best time to travel because much of the rest of the year I have to remained pretty connected.
I really can’t wait to get back there, for so many reasons. This time we’ll have a better idea what we are getting into and how to operate.
photo by Lee Blackwell
Versus here, leaving Tucson bright eyed and bushy tailed, we were pretty clueless.
Eszter likes to give me grief for ‘over-researching’ things, but in this case there is no grief to give. We went in pretty blind — having no real plan other than to see what opportunities presented themselves and try to keep our expectations reasonable and low.
We found a place to camp near the Christchurch airport for night 1. That worked out and was as far as we had planned the trip.
Hanmer Springs has hot springs! And there’s a long cycletour dirt route called the Molesworth from there. I’m not even sure how Eszter found these things out the next morning, but I went so far as to verify the route was open, and suddenly we were off, riding bikes on the *wrong* side of the road, heading out of the city.
We navigated by Eszter’s NZ camping app, and a little bit on my GPS. I was worried that the roads would be busy/unsafe, and I was… mostly correct.
Flexibility. I didn’t have too many preconceived notions of NZ, but one thing I’d heard repeatedly was how everyone sees the country by ‘campervan’ and that camping is easy. That’s only somewhat true. We had much to learn and definitely a few challenges finding places to legally camp by bike. Sometimes the only option was holiday parks, which are similar to a KOA in the states, though they vary widely and have a lot more personality. This park (above) had rail cars you could rent out, and a library in a car, too.
“Don’t worry honey, it’s a shortcut.” Actually this was an attempt to avoid the many dairy trucks on the highway just parallel to it. I hopped over several trees before being rightly vetoed.
We made Hanmer safely. I acquired curved silver bar-ends from the outdoorsy shop there. I think they’d been on the shelf for at least 20 years and definitely made me smile as I rode so many miles with a similar pair.
We soaked until late. Had some interesting conversations with locals. Marveled at the long days. Rode out in the rain to start the Molesworth. Part of this plan was we needed to make the town of Blenheim in two days in order to meet Kurt and Kaitlyn. We were somewhat unnecessarily rushing things, but at least it gave us a direction.
The Molesworth was beautiful. Stunning. Completely free of traffic.
YES. This is what we came to NZ for.
Carrot bird! They have carrots for beaks. And they swooped us somewhat aggressively. It was so neat being in a foreign landscape with new plants, birds and geology.
Even the sky was foreign. One of the most interesting things for me was how I was confused by the sun’s location. I didn’t realize how much my sense of direction depended on the sun being in the southern part of the sky! Being summer in NZ, it was very much to the north, but that part of the software in my brain was obviously subconscious. I’d have to override it with the logical/thinking part of my brain… which when you’re riding a bike isn’t that easy to do.
Even stranger was that the moon looked wrong. It just looked plain wrong. It took me a few clear days to put my finger on it. But, indeed it is illuminated in a reflected or opposite way compared to the northern hemisphere. Again, it was my subconscious that was telling me it was a moon that I didn’t recognize or that didn’t look right.
Improvising a thank-you note when we could find no writing instrument in the entire house.
Most people who have traveled by bike have had the following experience.
It’s getting late. You’re tired. The chill of the night is starting to come on. You don’t have any clue where you’re going to lay your head. The previous hours of riding haven’t provided anything promising (in our case it was mostly private-looking farm land). This is a special kind of anxiety that only people traveling in a lightweight and human-powered mode can relate to, I think.
Often, you travel by cozy looking houses, maybe with the lights on or smoke puffing out of the chimney. As hardcore as you may be, and as prepared as you may be, there’s still a part of you that longs for comfort. A part that wishes someone would magically come out of that cozy house and invite you in.
Well, for the first time, that actually happened to us. We stopped to pull water out of a small creek, hoping somewhat desperately we could find a little piece of ground to scratch out a night’s sleep on, somewhere in the next 10 minutes. I had looked at the little white house somewhat longingly. Then we noticed someone walking towards us. My first instinct was that we might be doing something wrong and they didn’t want us just below the road taking water.
Instead, it was a very kind kiwi, who invited us to stay in her empty cottage across the road. There wasn’t hot water, but it sure was cozy. It was a lovely welcome to the country.
And then it rained. That was a less lovely welcome to the country.
We met up with Kurt and Kaitlyn, and it was so great to see friends from the states, ready to ride — and hike-a-bike, too!
The route would have been quite fun and not all that epic had it not rained most of the time, or had the primary trail surface not been off camber roots.
A backcountry hut presented itself. The first of many for us, this one was much needed.
Somehow we survived the trail, despite Eszter only having one functional brake. We landed in “Sunny Nelson”, a town on the northern coast.
It was anything but sunny, and the holiday park was anything but cozy. There were varying levels of disgruntlement from all of us as the skies continued to let loose and the thought of more cold riding in the rain put the four of us mostly in-town and in-doors, which wasn’t really where we wanted to be.
Just as we were accepting this reality, a rather major earthquake rolled across the northern end of the south island. I was fast asleep when I heard the rattling doors and cupboards, thinking it was the college aged kids being dumb. Then I felt a new sensation — the entire ground beneath us rolling and shaking. There was much more of a wave component to it than I would have expected. Almost more regular and repeating like turbulence in an airplane, yet unpredictable too. Very little sound associated with it — just man made objects vibrating. We were in a very rickety hostel up on a steep hill so it wasn’t clear whether it was safer inside it or out. We didn’t have much time to think about it, though.
“That was fucking awesome!” one of our hostel neighbors exclaimed.
Yes, it was awesome that it stopped, for now, and that no one in the immediate area was hurt.
Most of us were still somewhat worried, but a girl from Chile yawned from a chair and complained, “great, now there are going to be aftershocks all night, I need some sleep.”
“Oh yes there are great tastes… on the great taste trail!”
Finally the forecast looked reasonable and we rolled out of trail on a neato little bike route.
Sadly we didn’t try any of the wine as we rolled by vineyards, but we did stop for a coffee and snack when the little sign on the trail showed a steaming cup of coffee with an arrow. That was a win.
St. Arnaud is the seat of Nelson Lakes National Park and quite the spot. We planned to wait out more rain there and allow me to work the Baja 1000 weekend with a roof and semi-stable internet.
The hostel in St. Arnaud fit the bill. There were many trails nearby. This one above was a pretty neato dayride I did inbetween coding and server-babying sessions.
I probably should have been prepping for the event to start, but with a bluebird day I couldn’t resist joining the girls for a ‘run’ above treeline. Must return and go further!
I had to resort to hitchhiking in order to catch back up with my friends after Baja went… well, about as well as it ever does. It’s a sinking ship from the beginning, and we just do our best to bail water to keep it afloat. We’ve always succeeded in this, but the challenge of being in another country, in a small hostel with intermittent internet, with a crappy laptop and a wedding about to take over the place… well, those were just some of the challenges that presented themselves.
When it was finally done and dusted, I gathered my gear, knowing there wasn’t enough time or daylight to ride, and set about to hitchhiking, with a bike.
A young couple from the UK picked me up and I rejoiced when I found Kurt and Kaitlyn in the next town, Murchison. Kurt picked up my bike, for some reason, and hefted it to see how heavy it was, or how it bounced or somesuch. When he did that I actually looked at the bike. “Oh no, there’s no seat bag! We have no tent.”
No shelter in NZ with these atmospheric conditions was a no-go. Various plans were hatched, then I inquired at the closest hostel. The American girl that was running the place was very kind, first offering to drive me back to fetch the tent. Then she just gave me the keys and asked if I’d driven on the left side of the road before.
“Nope, but I’m a fast learner.” Or so I told myself.
It was only mildly terrifying. But tent was retrieved, all were reunited and all was well!
Swing bridge! It was on the Old Ghost Road, which was the only route in the country we knew about beforehand.
Treeferns! Well graded and pleasant track.
The Ghost Road is really a trail, not a road, and it fulfills dreams made by miners of old. They had planned to create this dubious connection, over giant mountains on the west coast. The plans were later found and a ‘great walk’ style trail was envisioned. The timing was just right that the government wanted a ‘great ride’ cycle trail, and the Ghost Road has become a flagship great ride. The amount of money and sweat that has gone into this trail is just astounding. And we got to enjoy it all.
Tree ferns growing.
Proof that there were ‘fine spells’ on the tops. Or at least fine moments. I think I had made optimistic and wholly unfounded statements about such fine spells coming to be. In truth, this was probably the coldest night we spent in NZ.
Luckily we had plenty of comedy and general camaraderie to keep us warm. Particularly when Kurt complained that his ‘whisking arm’ was getting tired, as Kaitlyn had him helping prepare their dinner. Kurt is one of the strongest and most capable cyclists I know, but, you know, everyone’s whisking arm gets tired sometimes!
It was challenging to coordinate all four of us on the same page, in a different country, with many unknowns, and with no real set plan or goals. But I am glad that we put the effort into it, since we certainly did share some good times.
Such as the next day of riding, above treeline and through landscapes so mysterious they defy description.
After Ghost Lake the trail got nicely rowdy. Grade 4 as they call it in NZ.
Banked corners and markers every corner. It’s a different kind of trail.
And yet still, the place. The place.
I’ve seen some trail layout challenges and interesting solutions, but this was a new one. They needed to lose 1000 feet, and FAST. So, let’s just build stairs!
The trail is newly opened, and not quite finished. We rode/pushed through quite a bit of muck in the middle of the trail. The solution? Mostly gravel, I think. Surely some drainage. We also hit it after much rain.
“Cyclists dismount. Two person limit.” I love swingbridges.
Even more, I loved the emerald river we followed through a steep and impossibly beautiful gorge. This trail is the closest a mountain biker can come to paddling a remote canyon like this. Flowing.
Unfortunately, the end of the Ghost Road was soured by Kaitlyn’s rapidly swelling knee. The future of the trip was unsure, and we all hoped that it would not be a serious injury. One thing was clear — she was done pedaling for the immediate future. We rested at the ‘holiday park’ in Seddonville, which was a converted schoolyard. We had the place to ourselves and really it was one of the best nights.
The best part was the guy behind the bar/hotel/restaurant, Graeme. We could mostly understand him, but his backwoods kiwi accent was thick. When another local walked into the bar and started conversing, it wasn’t clear to us they were speaking English, at all. We couldn’t pick out more than a word here or there. It was awesome.
“G’dayhowyagoinmate” all in one word and maybe two syllables.
I was assigned the task of calling Graeme from the schoolhouse in order to ask what the WiFi password was. What could possibly go wrong?
Kurt and Kaitlyn had less time on the island that we did, so we had bus tickets to whisk us down to Queenstown. You see, Kurt had spied a ‘super smooth’ trail in the mountains above Queenstown as they were flying in, and that promise of a trail was pulling him in like a magnet. It was good timing to spend some time on the bus, given Kaitlyn’s inability to ride and the promise of good doctors in a place larger than Seddonville.
Along the way the bus was kind enough to stop for some touristy diversions, such as the pancake rocks (above) which shoot out water when the tide is right.
We also overnighted at Franz Joseph glacier, for a short hike up to see the *RAPIDLY* decreasing mass of ice and snow. It’s pretty alarming to see how big it was just a decade ago.
We made Queenstown. Now to get the knee checked out, have Thanksgiving with Eszter’s brother who was working there and living in a campervan. Then, see where New Zealand takes us from there.
What can one say about a summer spent in a Scamp? A summer lived without a plan?
Was it a worthwhile summer? Was time spent outside? With friends and family? Adventures had?
Without a plan it could go either way. Nothing might happen, a summer wasted.
climbing steep trail with my dad in SLC
Even with a plan, that might happen too.
I’m not convinced that planning makes much a difference. As I look over a summer of photos I can’t resist making a frequent Scamp-life jest, “we never do anything fun.” The photos prove it. We didn’t go anywhere, see anything, spend any time adventuring with friends.
The summer was wasted, clearly.
I’m struck by how much we were able to pack in, without destroying ourselves, and by simply making ‘greedy’ decisions at every turn. In computer dork-o-nerd terms, a greedy algorithm makes the best decision available at the time — without solving sub-problems or looking very far into the future. One benefit of greedy algorithms is they are usually the quickest to code, meaning less (human) time wasted thinking about it, especially when good enough is good enough.
Often good enough is very good, and things just come together.
Variables that come into play when making Scamp decisions: weather, whereabouts of friends, availability of new terrain, cell coverage / work schedule, and up-to-the minute personal evaluations such as, “how sick of people are we?”
We are lucky to be both be pretty tolerant to ‘crowds’, and people are a fact of life when you hang out in desirable places. Though the Scamp brings us closer to those places, it also takes us away, since even the busiest national park has nearby public lands where no tour bus dares to venture. And even jammed viewpoints have nothing on freeways and urban centers as far as ‘crowding.’
But, we do reach tolerance points, depending on how it’s going.
sparkles! hurry up, she says
How it’s going is difficult to predict (in life, generally), so being able to adjust short term plans sure has its benefits.
I’m not pretending this always works out. Like when we head to the highest snow-free woods we can think of, the Kaibab Plateau, and discover that while it’s cool in the shade, our laptops are getting awfully thirsty, and our trailer battery is looking drier than the ‘lake’ of Jacob Lake (pretty damn dry, if you haven’t seen it). Oh, and Tour Divide starts tomorrow. Turns out roof-top solar power doesn’t work well in tall ponderosa pines. Didn’t plan for that.
Adapt, a night charging batteries and trying not to feel inadequate, dwarfed by giants.
One downside to living in a trailer is it can be a bit of a deterrent to multi-day trips. Houses can be difficult to leave too, but at least someone can’t drive off with your home, and a house is generally sitting in a place with other people around. Finding a ‘safe’ place to leave the trailer takes some effort.
So we’ve transitioned towards shorter but more frequent adventures. There has to be a good reason to ride more than 4-5 hours. I’d rather do three days of three hour rides than one nine hour adventure followed by two resting. I guess that’s a side effect of living in a small trailer. You really, really, can’t sit in it all day long. It’s cramped, sure, but you’re (usually) surrounded by beauty, the outside is so close. It pushes you to spend more time outside, and that’s a good thing.
I was happy to see a number of bikepacks in the summer, always with friends.
They were the closest to actual planning all summer.
And they were brilliant trips.
There is something to actual camping, and I do not considering Scamping to be camping. It’s a close relative, but isn’t the same as reaching places you can’t drive, relying only on what you can carry with your own power.
Not having actual plans lets you take advantage of crazy opportunities that may arise, like the time I accidentally got Eszter signed up to a 50 mile ultra race in Ouray, that Trackleaders was tracking.
And we spent some days exploring the place, even riding bikes at times.
The good Mr. Schillingsworth!
Then impromptu meetings with friends.
Who knows what would have happened had we ‘had other plans’? Surely we would have missed this rainbow, predicted by rainbow seer Rachel.
Craig Stappler, crushing it in the alpine
I am pretty sure something awesome would have happened, if not for this awesomeness. But I am grateful for all the particular awesomeness that does happen in my life, nonetheless.
A summer without a plan. Not bad for a couple of dirtbags living in a cheap little trailer, making it up as they go.
from the semi-rideable 14ers tour, wrapping up the summer
It’s always a been a good idea, too. It was the first truly good idea I remember having. And like all good ideas, it was stolen from someone else. My best friend in 3rd grade talked about taking mountain bikes to Moab, and how you could ride on sand and rock. I don’t think he had actually been. We didn’t know what a mountain bike was, what Moab meant, or even where it was. But I remember thinking it sounded cool, so I mentioned it to my Dad. “Hey Dad, we should bring mountain bikes to Moab.” He agreed it was a good idea, which surprised me. It’s the earliest memory I have of him thinking a plan of mine was worth something. Most of my plans consisted of ways to spend more money on computer games, or more time playing computer games, so it makes sense that he jumped at an idea that meant something other than couch potatoing.
It was some time before the family made it to Moab, and the first visit didn’t include mountain bikes. Dad tried dozens of ways to get me away from the computer and doing something physical. All team sports were dismal failures. Fitness for the sake of fitness just didn’t take, and my scrawny kid body made everything difficult. One shining day, I received a “Firenze” (K-mart brand) mountain bike for my birthday. It wouldn’t be considered a mountain bike by today’s standards, but you could ride dirt on it.
Dirt I did ride. I rode that bike into the ground, eventually getting an upgrade to a Costco bike called the “Trailhead Trailridge” (or was it “Trailridge Trailhead” — we were never quite sure). I started riding every day in the summer, keeping track of my stats in a logbook piece of software I wrote in Turbo Pascal.
And finally, we rode bikes in Moab. I was in love. I never wanted to leave. Surely, I was obsessed with mountain biking, and Moab is world famous for a reason. But it was more than that to me. It became a holy place. Each journey felt like a pilgrimage, like coming home.
Why? One could wax romantic until the cows come home about all the desirable qualities of the place (sandstone! sandstone!). But for me it represented, more than anything, an escape. More than a vacation, it was an escape from a lifestyle and world that I was becoming aware did not fit me. Growing up in the LDS church in Salt Lake City was not a bad way to be raised, but if it doesn’t fit, it doesn’t fit. Trying to make it stretch and fit is painful, more painful than sliding your knee down bare slickrock.
Sometimes a bovine or two don’t come home. I left that life, moved to the desert (Arizona) and didn’t need the pilgrimage any longer. I lived in the desert, and had much less uncertainty about who I was and where I was going.
Fast forward some number of years, and thanks to the dreams and wisdom of a girl with a ‘Z’ in her name, we moved into a small trailer and embraced a more nomadic life. It wasn’t until we’d been in Moab a while that I realized two things:
1) It was still a sacred place to me, as a worshiper of the earth and all its beauty
2) I didn’t have to leave
In so many ways, I was fulfilling dreams of old. Never having to leave Moab. Riding only limited by the fragility of my mortal frame (which can be quite fragile…).
We spent 6 weeks Scamping in Moab, approximately 5.5 weeks longer than I’d ever spent. Was it a vacation, an escape? No, not really. Surely we spent a lot of time outside, perhaps more than other times of the year. But emails came in, trackers needed to be set up, Tour Divide riders had burning questions, like how do they sign up for tracking, and how do I get one Matthew Lee to respond to my burning questions about how to sign up for tracking?
We got tired, and when tired, computer work sure is nice. We spent time at the library, at the cafe, pretending to work. It was nice to accomplish some things, have some money coming in, while also playing hard in the desert.
Moab trips of old were vacations — there was nothing to do but ride, eat, and ride. Or as Hans Rey puts it in TREAD, “there is no plan like there are no limits. We just ride, ride and ride some more.”
Clearly Moab is still that to many people. But that isn’t all it is to me.
Nostalgia is a strong positive influencer, and surely that plays into it. I have many deep memories here.
Deep memories were dug out, riding with my Dad and brother. I love that they came down to visit and to ride — a return to Moab riding after even more years than I had been absent. We also got Eszter’s Dad out for a bikepack around White Rim, which was a rewarding experience, for him and for us.
With plenty of time, we were able to revisit some classic rides, now relegated to “B” ride, “C” ride, or dust bin forgotten status.
Some of them are so, so, good. Though I cannot control for the nostalgia factor.
Yet, there remains something about the place that draws so many people, that makes it so special. I know many of the reasons, but it’s also more than the sum of its parts. It’s unique, it’s Moab.
Finally, it did get hot. We saw a forecast bleeding red with nineties. That introduced me to a new sensation — wanting to leave Moab.
Eszter and I are back in the Scamp after spending 9 weeks living off our bikes in New Zealand. It was such an experience, and we are already missing many things about those cool little islands at the bottom of the world.
More on that, hopefully soon, though Ez has done a fantastic and tireless job of keeping up on the photos and words over at zenondirt.wordpress.com.
Kurt and his 14er fan club
This is just a quick post about a story from the summer that normally would have appeared here, but since we were riding Salsa Redpoints, and Kurt Refsnider was along, I thought it would fit well on the Salsa Cycles Culture Blog:
Salsa was launching a new bike, the Redpoint. The plan was to find some aggressive terrain for a 3 day bikepack. Tucson wasn’t the first choice, so Eszter and I were enlisted somewhat late in the game.
The challenge was to come up with a route that would showcase what Arizona has to offer, push some limits, but not kill anyone, either. Easier said than done.
The obvious choice was “the Gila.” While I’m not a huge fan of ‘guiding’ people, this little corner of the world is pretty near and dear to me. It’s still relatively unknown, so I really enjoy seeing people’s reaction to it, on first brush. With Scamp-depature from AZ imminent, I couldn’t pass up a chance to spend more time out there.
It’s a bit of a project to get seven people locked and loaded. We left the Scamp in a yard in Tucson, hoping everything would be undisturbed when we returned.
As they always do, once on the bike, cares melt away.
We moved deeper into the inner canyon. The place.
Had to check in on our buddy, Thumbs Up Cactus. I’m afraid he’s going to lose his arms, but, so far so good.
Eszter riding, boys walking, part 1.
Down into the box.
team bright colors!
For whatever reason, the crew was overly impressed by our ability to find water in the desert. It was part knowledge of the area, part experience in sniffing out sources that change over time.
Heron on a Saguaro. Not a common sight.
A gaggle of new bikes, getting properly broken in. I love it that Salsa is marketing the Redpoint as a capable bikepacking machine. With 5 or 6 inches of travel, it would normally be considered an ‘all mountain’ or a ‘trail’ bike. To most people a bike well suited to bikepacking is either something with fat (slow) tires or, at least, a hardtail with room to strap on 80 pounds of stuff.
My take, since the beginning, is that if you’re going to bikepack in aggressive terrain (i.e. the mountains) then you should ride a capable and aggressive bike. I think some were scratching their heads as to how the Redpoint could be a bikepacking bike, but I was not one of them.
Since the Gila is our local bikepack, we usually pick and choose our weather windows out there. Put differently, if it’s raining, we just don’t go.
This trip was an exception, of course, planned in advance. We waited out a big storm and watched lightning from a small cave just below 52.
Once the skies cleared, there was still daylight left. I rallied troops for an unloaded Area 52 excursion. Some were tired, myself included, but I had 3 takers.
Anthony nails the keyhole
Area 52 is magic, in my book, but this evening was a little beyond that.
The vultures had the same idea as us, dry out up on Area 52, air it out.
Gilas and rainbows, oh my.
Bighorn sheep, also exploring the sherbet rock mesa.
The waterfall. Time to flip it and find new lines back down to camp.
Exit 52, in the morning.
Eszter riding, boys walking, part 2.
No tour of the Gilas would be complete without climbing Ripsey.
I think everyone’s eyes were opened a little as to what Arizona has to offer, in terms of scenery, solitude and enjoyable MTB terrain. The launch went off without a hitch. Luckily everyone in the crew was a solid rider, even though a couple had not bikepacked before. So really, our job was easy. The terrain, the canyons of the Gila, the chunk, all spoke for itself.
Everyone seemed to enjoy the new bike, and agreed that it was well suited to the terrain. Within a few months, Eszter and I would both own one. And it would become the one and only bike we started carrying with us on the road.
We moved ‘full time’ into our little Scamp trailer at the end of February, 2016. All our belongings fit in the van/trailer, and we were officially rent-free and on the road. Wahoo!
How would it go? What would we learn? What unexpected challenges would there be? What places would we visit, what trails would we explore? Which sites would be good scamping vs bad scamping?
March was surprisingly warm in AZ, with temperatures in the upper 80’s common in Tucson. One unexpected challenge should have been obvious, but it wasn’t to me. The Scamp, with a total volume smaller than many cars, can heat up quickly.
I knew that if it sat in the AZ sun all day, it’d get hot. But it hadn’t really occurred to me that even in the shade, if the ambient temperature is 85 degrees, the best you’re going to do, by the end of the day, is, well, 85 degrees.
Luckily you can sit outside and in the shade, or even better, go ride or run when it’s hot.
But working in the Scamp, at 85+ degrees can be a little challenging. The Scamp does act as a barrier against the wilds of the outdoors, but it’s perhaps only a step above a tent, meaning you’re still subjected to elements like heat/sun, wind, and maybe even rain, in that it wakes you up and there isn’t all that much space to bring things out of the rain.
So one of our first moves was away from Tucson proper, which has very little shade, heading for higher country and hopefully some shade.
my nephew’s favorite bird, which he calls a “Lasagna Bunting”
We found plenty in the birders paradise of Patagonia. The giant oak (first pic) kept us nicely cool, and we were excited to explore our newfound interest in birding.
Beginner’s luck. We got photos of the much-sought-after elegant trogon!
Of course, the Arizona Trail rolls through Patagonia, not far from where we camped. The Canelos aren’t necessarily everyone’s favorite section, but I do enjoy riding them.
Eszter opted to avoid the uncertainty of hike-a-biking in the Canelos, instead going for 100% chance of hiking (well, running).
Since we ‘lived’ in the woods outside Patagonia, we had the time to go deeper and explore things that wouldn’t necessarily call for a visit if we just made a ‘trip’ there.
On one minor trail, we saw a pair of trogons and… a group of the elusive montezuma’s quail!
Forest lookout climb, from camp, and littered with perfectly ‘scott-sized’ (i.e. baby-sized) tabletop erosion jumps on the way down. Yes!
The giant oaks of Patagonia were wonderful for keeping us cool, but bad for generating solar power.
A question we sometimes get is about the “W” word — WORK. No, we didn’t save up a bunch of money in order to live out of the trailer. We’re not vacationing all the time. We need to bring money in, just like everyone else. So, how do we do that?
We’re fortunate to both be able to generate funds as long as we have a little cell service and can keep our laptops charged. Eszter writes articles, mostly website content. I play with SPOT dots on maps over at trackleaders.com. I also maintain and sell TopoFusion software. Actually it feels like I spend most of my ‘working hours’ answering emails, these days…
So far we’ve been pretty successful at living cheaply, which is even better than earning a lot of money. Yet, moving into the Scamp to live on the road wasn’t a scheme to save money. We did it because we wanted to travel, stay in places we love, and explore deeper. We loved the simplicity of it. It’s just a nice side bonus that it happens to be cheaper than living in a house (even factoring in the initial cost of the Scamp/setup). Even if it had been more expensive, we still would have done it.
An after-work ride on Brown Mtn, from camp.
Trackleaders forces many deadlines on me, given that races rarely get delayed — they start when they start. So I can’t put off things, especially on weekends. I need my laptop to stay somewhat charged, and that wasn’t completely happening in Patagonia.
We tend to operate on a mix of working in the Scamp and working at libraries/coffee shops. There are positives and negatives to both, so a mix seems to work best. We really like having the option to work comfortably at camp, so we can have car free days. But in Patagonia the coffee shop is fantastic, and we’d always walk away with fully charged laptops.
We knew we’d eventually need to figure out a way to generate more solar power, and a way to do that with the Scamp in the shade (and consequently, its rooftop solar panel also in the shade). But I think we were a little reluctant to figure that out so that we could justify a few nights out at Gilbert Ray in Tucson Mountain Park. It’s so nice out there, trail access is superb (Brown Mtn!) and we’d plug the Scamp in to charge the battery and everything else we could think of.
Starr Pass build day, from the east side? Sweet, short commute to work with Lee, Joan and some Ordinary Bikes riders.
this looks like I caused a lot of hike-a-bike, but it’s a mere fraction of the havoc I’ve wreaked on people’s cycling shoes over the years
We ‘planned’ Camp Tucson (meaning, keeping it more the less the same as previous years) without really thinking what that meant for Scamp life. The after-ride food part of it really lends itself to being situated in Tucson proper, not camping on the outskirts of town. Luckily the Scamp is small enough to fit in some yards, and Lee was amenable to some scamping in his.
Eszter was in Colorado, dog sitting Sparkles and nursing her parents’ older dog back to health, so she missed the Camp rides, but I think it’s safe to say a good time was had by all.
March is perhaps the busiest month for trackleaders, with multiple week+ events going on throughout Alaska and the Yukon. My brain usually fries at some point, and a break is needed. At the same time, Lee and I were realizing that the fleeting beauty that is spring in the Gila Country was slipping us by.
We weren’t going to be able to experience it unless an emergency was called. Emergency Gila Bikepack!
I got lucky with all things server and Scott’s code related, as I dipped in and out of service out there, races still going on.
bikepacking some new Grand Enchantment Trail, with many opportunities to get our feet wet
I always assumed that we’d be able to take bikepack trips based out of the Scamp. Why not, it’s the perfect base camp, right?
Well, though our total possessions may be meager yet, they are still our possessions and would be a pain to replace. Once you have all your belongings in one mobile space, it can be a little disconcerting to leave it all, sitting there unattended.
I’ve tried to not let that be a factor, not let it prevent trips, but it is an issue.
For both the Emergency Trip and the subsequent, brilliant, GET trip with Lee, the Scamp simply sat in his yard in Tucson. No problem, this go-round.
Eszter was back after a couple weeks, and the Scamp rolled out again.
Hey look, it’s the elusive Cjell Mone’, rolling right near camp on his AZT ITT.
red racer snake, quick everyone draw their cameras!
A valid question for a wandering couple is, “what about community, friends?” If you’re not in one place all the time, does that make it hard to form lasting friendships and have a sense of community?
I suppose a case could be made for it being more challenging, but then I think it’s a challenge even if you live in one place, too. The truth is, it takes effort to be a part of a community, to feel like a part of one. It’s not something that just happens.
We’re lucky to be alive in the days of the internet and mobile data, not only because we can make a living while being mobile, but it is also easier to keep up with friends and arrange rides/camping through the wonders of, yes, “social media.” It isn’t perfect and I don’t think we have the community part of Scamp life nailed, either, but sometimes friends and rides do come together beautifully.
As March turned into April, we began to make preparations for the next phase of Scamp life — leaving Arizona! Scamping around AZ was a bit of an easier, trial run. Once we left, we wouldn’t have access to Lee’s array of tools and his know how, or his yard to Scamp in. We’d be without the benefit of the familiarity we have for so many places in Southern AZ. And though the minivan was towing the Scamp and all our junk around without too much issue, we hadn’t faced any big hills or mountain passes. Familiarity with places meant we hadn’t yet gotten ourselves into trouble trying to pull the scamp down a road we had no business on, forcing miles of trailer backing up or worse.
There was much to be excited about as the mercury climbed higher and the impetus to leave AZ was building.
April was lined up with a few big events, then we would hit the road.
First was a bikepacking trip with the Salsa crew, where we would guide them and they would launch a new bike (next post here on the diary, hopefully).
Then I was looking forward to getting the 2016 edition of the Arizona Trail Race off.
After the racers were rolling (err, hike-a-biking), our first order of business was to head to the Grand Canyon so Eszter could do a ‘little’ run across and back. Seen here, I’m picking her up from her Tucson Mountains Traverse. Half excuse to do a big adventure on foot, half ‘training’ for the canyon, it was a very nice linkup of trails.
So far so good. We were loving all the outdoor time, the ability to spend more time in places we love. And I loved sleeping ‘indoors’ while camping, with the window above our heads open, a cool breeze on the face to lull us to sleep. Ah, Scamp life.
We’ve been nomads for a while now. We seem to follow good weather and good adventures around the west, working on the computer in most places as we go.
In 2014, we lived off our bikes, traveling north on the Continental Divide Trail. We shipped our laptops to post offices along the way. Even they were too heavy for the demanding trail.
In 2015, we spent most of the year living out of a minivan and a tent. We were able to see many new places and be semi-comfortable camping throughout. After bad weather or other adverse conditions, we’d look forward to staying with family or friends, a roof overhead. Occasionally, we missed having a home base, our own space. Being able to work effectively meant going to coffee shops or seeking shade/indoors in some way. Laptops get frustrating to use from camp chairs in the sun/wind/elements.
At the end of 2015, we took it a step further and bought a mobile domicile. The Scamp!
We debated between a number of options, from RVs to McSprinters to just continuing on with the minivan/tent (or bike!). In my opinion, there’s no ‘best’ option for mobile living. All have their positives and negatives, and what’s good also depends heavily on the style of mobile living you employ. That style is also hard to predict and tends to change over time.
So we didn’t agonize too long, but chose the fiberglass Scamp because it was cheap, simple, and provided all the amenities we were looking for. The fact that we didn’t need to buy a new vehicle was a bonus — the Sports Van would roll on.
It’s a 13′ trailer (including tongue) that has:
– a bed
– a table/bench suitable for two people to work on laptops
– a small fridge that runs on propane
– a deep cell battery and solar system to power LED lights, phones and laptops
Anything else (stove, heater, storage, etc) was just a bonus, and not really needed.
But now, could a lowly Sports Van really tow it?
AZT Jamboree at Starr Pass. Espresso shots and empanadas!
There were a few things to figure out first, like installing a hitch, wiring and tuning up the van. The used (2007) Scamp needed a few things like LED replacement lamps and a new battery, too.
Meanwhile, the AZT Jamboree fundraiser was moved at the last minute to Tucson Mountain Park due to rain. This is significant because the only ‘venue’ we could come up with for parking/riding/beering/camp fire-ing was a place called Snyder Hill.
Chad killing it climbing Golden Gate
Eszter and I hung out there long enough that we convinced ourselves it would be a suitable place to Scamp a night or two, as needed.
the first of many Scamp sunsets
Once we had a trailer hitch, we started conservatively, by towing the little trailer to the closest place we could, and all on pavement. Gilbert Ray campground would become a favorite place to Scamp, and our test trip went beautifully. We’d only planned a single night out, but we didn’t want to go home just yet.
So we pushed our luck, entering Synder Hill’s ruts with a tad too much confidence. The trailer’s jack dragged in the dirt and bent even further back. Ouch. At dusk, a little white dog appeared, scared and begging for food. By the end of the night, Eszter had the dog in her lap, and the dog had a name: Sparkles.
Sparkles would become a point of contention, a source of joy and warmth, and a source of major heartache, over the next months. Her arrival delayed us moving “full time” into the Scamp as we struggled to figure out what her story was, and what we would do with her.
The Sparkles story could fill an entire blog post, and is written up over on Eszter’s blog already. Suffice it to say, Sparkles won the dog lottery (as Eszter correctly puts it), ending up in a happy and loving home, with Eszter’s parents. We still get to visit her, and she doesn’t have to deal with the stresses of being a camp dog.
While Sparkles hung out in the yard of our tiny rental house, we continued making preparations to move into the Scamp. I had some years of accumulated stuff to go through and get rid of, including lecture notes and exams from grad school. It took some time to decide what got donated and what got trashed. How much, exactly, would fit in the trailer/van, and what did we really need? We didn’t really know.
Luckily we had Lee Blackwell and his shop at our disposal for further Scamp mods. The jack needed to be moved up (major design flaw in Scamps), and back. Our wiring harness needed to be tucked up out of the way, too. He also helped us put in a little bit more LED lighting. We were getting close.
We pulled the trailer out to Willow Springs for the 9th running of the Antelope Peak Challenge. It was a good crew, and I enjoyed riding the loop in the traditional direction (switched from the previous year).
Another beautiful Scamp sunset, this time with friends and a little camp fire nearby. The dream. We’re getting so close.
During APC, trackleaders was beginning the dive into sled dog season, or, the busy season. I still hadn’t transitioned to a fully mobile computer life. Somehow through all the previous years I’d held onto a giant desktop, that was lovely when fully set up, but a pain to haul around, and not Scamp-approved by any means.
Finding a suitable new laptop wasn’t too hard. Low power, fanless, direct DC charger, small and light. Would it be fast and capable enough to develop TopoFusion and run Trackleaders from? I wasn’t sure, but just like much of the decisions going into full mobile life, there was only one way to find out: try it.
It was a bit of a mental shift, but not too difficult. Luckily nothing I do these days is too (locally) resource intensive, so a laptop that’s well less than $1k does the job. Check another one off the box, we’re getting close!
Plans for Ole Pueblo were hard to settle on. I ended up watching Sparkles back in Tucson, and the Scamp stayed in town as well. I came up to cheer Ez and Alexis on with donuts, and to do the fuzzy math of lap times for them. They ended up taking the win! And Eszter had found a free ride to Boulder for her and Sparkles. Sparkles was bound for her new home, and we were now VERY close!
After spending some time trying to get Sparkles settled in (with some success), Eszter flew back to Tucson, and….
Full time Scamping, just outside of Tucson!
Everything fit with room to spare. But from our first camp we ended up making a trip or two to Goodwill and the community bike shop to donate more stuff. It didn’t take nearly as much effort to whittle it down as I thought.
The most common question we got, during this ~2 month period before we moved into the trailer, was some variant of: “That’s an awfully small trailer. How are you going to live in that?”
We thought it kind of a funny question, because in our mind it was an upgrade over living off the bikes, or out of a minivan and a tent. The Scamp was going to be luxurious, or so we thought. We didn’t really know, but we knew enough to have a good hunch.
The other common question was, “What’s your plan? How long are you going to live out of it?” The answer is that we don’t really know. We’ll stay in it for as long as it works, for as long as we enjoy it. It is true that though we’ve lived off bikes and out of cars, we’ve always returned to some kind of dwelling in the winter months and had a home base for part of the year. So striking off and going full time in a trailer was still an adventure in the unknown. And I don’t think we’d have it any other way.
More interesting and open questions, for us, were things like the following. Would the convenience and comfort of the trailer be worth the hassle of towing and the longer setup/takedown time? Tents sure keep things simple. Would the van be able to tow the trailer, plus gear, on highways at a decent speed? How about over steep mountain passes? Would having low clearance and 2WD be much of a limitation? Could we keep all our electronics charged, and could we both work using mobile data plans that didn’t cost an arm and a leg? Would the Scamp be comfortable enough that even in adverse conditions we wouldn’t go looking for shelter?
These questions, and more, were yet to be seen, as we starting Scamping around Southern AZ in the springtime. One thing was for certain: we were infinitely fortunate to both be in a place in our lives when the mobile life was not only possible, but desirable. So we put away any excuses, and went for it.