Friday, February 24, 2012

I've been here a month exactly.

That's a bit of a surprise; I didn't expect to be here so long. It's been nice to have no time pressure. This leg of the trip has been the most vacationey, I think. New Zealand is culturally easy and naturally pretty.

It's been rewarding too. I learned I can bike a long distance and that I can do productive work for at least a week at a time. I've caught up with family a bit and seen some sights. I've met a few excellent Kiwis and absorbed a bit of NZ culture. It's all "shallow" culture (Cricket! Marmite! "Sweet as"!) but if you dig deeper, our cultures are really similar anyway.

I've got an exciting 3 days ahead: WLG-AKL-SYD (catch up with friend Anika)-LAX (catch up with cousins Jessica, Matt, and Colette)-IAD-ATL (see the city with friend Brad and visit Georgia Tech).

And then, here I come back to the States, inspired again. Inspired by a couple of fresh canvases, of the next few months and the next few years, and the confidence that I'll paint awesome stuff on them. Inspired by all the grad schools I'm going to visit, and the chance to work with some people who will help me turn my enthusiasm and energy into actually useful things. Inspired by an increasingly constant notion that everything is okay, and an urge to create and hopefully inspire creation and otherwise forward progress in others.

And let's not lie, inspired by some more great coffee. (Seriously. All over NZ it's good-to-great, but I think Wellington rivals Seattle. New favorite: Brewtown in Newtown, next to, and affiliated with, People's Coffee.)

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Well, I didn't leave.

Here is what I have done in Wellington this week:
  • started and finished Radiohead or Horse_ebooks?. Err, it's a little internet-memey. But I think it mostly works, and it's live, so that's a good feeling. Exciting showing up in a city and working on a project.
  • saw The 37th Situation. Brilliant! The premise: some guy once wrote a list of 36 situations that encompass every play ever. This ensemble staged a short 1-2 minute bit for each of the 36, running through them all in an hour. Reminiscent of Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind, which is exciting because either:
    • they saw TMLMTBGB and were inspired to do a similar show (sound familiar, Sarah, Julie, Todd, Josh?), or
    • they developed it independently, which means there's a bit of subgenre of this kind of thing, and therefore more of it
  • met some Wellington CSers, and went to see another show that was not so good
  • planned all the travel (this takes a surprising amount of time)
  • drank all of the coffee; I think my favorite spots are Lamason downtown and People's in Newtown, but Memphis Belle is a close third.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

"Careful, you won't want to leave."

So said a fellow I met on the bus up from Christchurch, about Wellington.

It's like a small San Francisco, with the hills, artsy reputation, and cool rainy weather. I'm couchsurfing with a cool guy named Joe, who lives in a pretty great spot, where the above picture is taken from. It's up in the hills, but only a 20-30 minute walk (through a gorgeous lush park) to the city center. Best of all worlds.

I kind of don't want to leave. It's big enough to have a good downtown, a couple of arts festivals, alternative newspapers, restaurants from all sorts of different cultures, etc, but still small enough that you can walk around it all. It's got all the consumable things I like: single origin coffee (at Peoples and Flight, at least), amazing ice cream (Kaffee Eis), craft beer (e.g. Hop Garden), and even passable wifi throughout the city center. (in NZ this is a big deal; you usually don't get it free with your coffee) And the weather is perfect.

What have I been doing in Wellington, besides talking about how great it is? The other day I went to the Weta Cave, a tiny museum and gift shop by the Weta movie-special-effects company. The company is super cool: a video showed a short bit of how they make effects for all these films (incl LotR). They're the second biggest such company in the world, after Pixar. That's neat. The Weta Cave itself is... really small. Not sure it's actually worth a visit.
I did meet this guy though.

Other end of the spectrum: Te Papa. This is like four museums in one. I got museum fatigue, but still enjoyed the modern art bit and the colossal squid.

Also, I went to my first ever live cricket match.
The pitch before the match

tl;dr: American goes to foreign country, loves foreign sport. It was great, though! New Zealand beat South Africa in 20/20 cricket (a short form that just takes 3 hours, not all day or multiple days). Pretty down to the wire, too: they needed 6 runs from the last 6 balls (not difficult, but not a given), and they got them. Martin Guptill hit something like 73 not out on 58 balls, which is really good.

This week, I had planned to go to Tongariro National Park, to hike the famous Tongariro Crossing (and climb Mt. Doom). Look at the pictures! But you need good weather, and this week is all rain and gale force winds. So now I'm not sure what to do.

I'm thinking about hanging out in Wellington for a week. Cons: vague feeling like I'm missing out on something. People would scoff at me because you don't go to NZ to hang out in cities. Pros: I'm thinking about working-vacationing, like my friends Jay, Raph, and Gary have done, and this could be just the rest period/kickstart I need. Also, it'd be pretty cheap. Also also, seeing things because other people think I should see them is boring, and the only thing I know of that I personally wanted to see on the north island is the Tongariro crossing.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Goodbye South Island, goodbye bike

I thought the last 150km to Christchurch would be easy. Not so: headwinds, crosswinds, three truck near-misses, rain, and Christchurch's large size made them actually quite hairy.
Two days ago, I made it 80km from Arthur's Pass to a small town called Springfield. Nice Alpine climate and scenery, lots of hills and wind. A few folks I met invited me in for tea. Yesterday, I went another 80km to the Fosters' place in Sumner, on the far side of Christchurch, through occasional rain. And today, I biked 30km across Christchurch to return the bike. This city sprawls a bit.
In total, 660km (390mi) over 9 biking days + 3 rest days. Some days, I felt like I could do 50 miles more, but most days I was sore and tired. I feel kind of the same as I do about hiking: it's got many good sides, and the right people make it all the better; but it's still an endurance sport, and it's hard to get excited about doing something that will be mostly crummy. Still, I'll probably end up doing it again occasionally.
Going north as we speak: tonight to Picton, tomorrow to Wellington. And then we'll see what happens.

EDIT: some stats, for future reference:
Feb 4: 60km, 2pm-~7
Feb 5: 78km, 12:30-6:20
Feb 6: rest
Feb 7: 56km, 10am-1:30
Feb 8: 83km, 9:30am-... 4?
Feb 9: 80km, 10:30-4
Feb 10: rest
Feb 11: 102km, 10am-6:30pm
Feb 12: rest
Feb 13: 82km, 10:15-6:55
Feb 14: 79km, 11:15-5:15
Feb 15: 29km, 12:00-1:45

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Some photos from this biking trip so far

By a winery on the way to Hanmer Springs

View from Conical Hill, Hanmer Springs

Somewhere around Lewis Pass

The towns are not much. Mostly friendly people though. This is Reefton.

Scones, tea, biking, and I tried to fit the lake below in this photo too but it didn't fit.

Doesn't look so steep here! This is the route up to Arthur's Pass.

Friday, February 10, 2012

A good day plus parrots

Today I rode 100km horizontally. That was actually quite nice! Not too sore or painful, making good time for some reason, and the scenery was great. Good stops for an awesome scone, and then coffee and a good chat.

In the last 10km, though, I gained about 500m vertical, which was nuts. I had to get off and catch my breath 5 times (but only in places where the road was wide enough) or I might have keeled over. At one point a crowd at a scenic lookout gave me a round of applause when I finally made it up to them.

(When you're doing tough guy things, you have to pretend it's no big deal. But I, and I think secretly ever other guy, really want to shout out "Yes! Look at me! I am such a tough guy! I am so tough I cannot even believe it myself! I'm, I'm... I'm goddamn Spartacus or something! I'll be acknowledging all the desire from the ladies and fear from the men now!")

Anyway, so I made it most of the way up, and now there I was, huffing and gasping, 9km into this massive ascent, going up a shallow hill which I could just barely manage in my lowest gear, and I heard caws. And here came two keas circling me. Google "kea". These guys are cute, majestic, super intelligent, and occasionally known to be aggressive. So here I figured I'd just made it up the toughest goddamn hill in my life, and I was gonna get pecked off the road by a couple of bloody parrots!

(But nothing happened. Good story, right?)

I guess I could have changed this ticket more radically, but I'm not sure how.

Wellington-Dubai? Nope! Now it's Wellington-Washington DC.

Here's the deal. I was going to go to Dubai, then to Turkey, then bike through Europe. But then I got accepted to somewhere between two and five grad schools: I'm in to Georgia Tech and UW, and I'm still waiting on U. Toronto, CMU HCII, and MIT Media Lab. So I'll definitely have to make some decision. And despite my hopes while planning this trip, the right answer hasn't appeared in a dream, so it'd probably be smart to visit these schools.

Also, I'd like to be back in the states for a while! I don't know what I want to do with the rest of my time until grad school starts. I want to keep traveling, and probably in some kind of European direction, but beyond that it's not super clear. Maybe some time back at "home" would help me decide. (I don't know why I think this.)

Anyway! NZ until Feb 25, mid-air flying limbo until Feb 27 (including long layovers in Sydney and LA), Atlanta on Feb 28 for a few days, Seattle sometime after that including March 13-14. If I know you live in any of those places, I'll probably hit you up soon; but if you live in these places and I don't know it, give me a shout!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012


They are kind of like mosquitoes, but smaller and more numerous. On the plus side, their bites are much less itchy. I'm not camping, so I'm only mildly annoyed by them. Still, it's tough when you can't stop for a rest without getting swarmed.

Sandflies and uncertainty about where I would sleep made day 4 tough, even though I only went 56km (33mi). Today, day 5, went all right too. Longest day so far at 83km (50mi), and I made it over Lewis Pass, the highest point, so it only gets better from here!

The mood swings on this trip are remarkable. While I'm going uphill, I want to pack it all up and go home. On the downhill, I'm pretty sure I thought "I would be mostly content about my eternal future if heaven is just like this forever." In flat places, my mind goes everywhere, occasionally returning to "eh, I'd kinda rather be sitting drinking a coffee or something."

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The First Day is the Hardest

Like they say. They say that, right? I hope they say that.

Rented a bike. It's nice and lightweight, but then I loaded it up with my 12 lbs of gear, so that's a new challenge. It's got drop handlebars. That's new for me too. Oh, and "motorway" means "highway with no bikes." That's somewhat terrifyingly new! The good news is, folks honking at me weren't just a bunch of jagoffs.

Still, I rode into a headwind on a boring road for the first day. Only 60km, but it felt like more. I got a flat tire.

Slept in a converted rail car. That was pretty neat. There are lots of hostels (or "backpackers") here in NZ, and that is really nice. USA, get on that.

Second day went better; I made it 78km up to Hanmer Springs. At about the 50km mark, I really got into it. Phew! I'd hate to be in for a 10 day ride if it was all going to be kind of crummy.

Or rather, I guess it's all going to be kind of crummy, but sometimes it's okay. When I asked my friend Pete about the "runner's high" once, he said that there is no magic runner's high where it all of a sudden feels good. And yet, he likes running anyway. Something to keep track of; ask me how I'm doing in a week.

Then I met my friends Marty and Jackie (from Dharamsala) and Marty's parents, which was quite nice, and now here I am, resting a day in Hanmer. So all's well!

Friday, February 3, 2012

South Island, take two, slower this time

My family left yesterday morning, after we've toured quite a substantial bit. It feels like my mind has been running a lot of programs for a while, so I can't even collect my thoughts (right now I'm in a crummy convenience store which is of course playing terrible radio) so instead here is a list of some things we did since we last spoke:

- went to Nelson, where my family went on a somewhat ill-fated kayaking trip to see some seals, while I stayed back, skyped some professors, and got accepted to the University of Washington
- went to Kaikoura, went out on a boat to see literally hundreds of dolphins doing flips and stuff
- went to Christchurch, met our friend's brother's wife's parents, the Fosters, who kindly put us up and helped me as I:
- got a bike lined up to go biking!

My route looks something like this. I am excited to get back on two wheels, excited to have a bit more time, sad that my family has left, and only a little nervous about biking so much.