N+1: A Love Story (Guest Post)

I know many of the contributors and readers of this blog are avid cyclists. I’ve only recently discovered the joys of cycling. Although, like most people, I learned to ride a bike when I was a child, it never captivated me until I moved to Aotearoa New Zealand and started commuting to university by bike. My officemate, who was leaving the country, sold me his bicycle (whom I christened Beatrice), and my love affair began. After a few months of commuting (plus an unexpected influx of cash), I decided to buy a new bicycle that fit me well and expressed my personality. Beatrice was lonely and needed a sister, after all! Plus, I am told that it is a well-known adage amongst cyclists that the number of bikes you need is n+1, where n is the number of bikes you currently have.

A side photo of a bright orange commuter bike leaning against a white house in the sunshine.

Image description: A side photo of a bright orange commuter bike leaning against a white house in the sunshine.

My new bike, Jezebel, is a commuter bike with a temperament to match her bright orange paint job. I’ll be the first to admit that I know almost nothing about bicycles—although I’m slowly learning a few basic maintenance things—but that hasn’t stopped me from falling hopelessly in love with my new bike. Even though I grew up with a triathlete mother, I never really understood how some cyclists could develop such deep emotional attachments to their bikes.

Now I do.

So, I present to you, dear readers, a love letter to my bicycle*:

Dear Jezebel,

How happy I am that you are in my life! Your blazing orange coat fills me with joy every time I lay eyes on you. I can’t wait to show you all around the great city where we live, and I’m looking forward to taking you up and down roads, over hill and dale, along rivers and around the harbour. You will accompany me everywhere I need to go: to friends’ houses, my office, the supermarket, the swimming pool. I’ll tuck you in, safe and sound in the garage, and dream of speeding off into the sunrise with you in the morning.

You push me to be stronger and more adventurous, facing wind and hill and black ice with courage and determination I didn’t have before. You’ve also made me notice the small details I never would have seen otherwise. The potholes, quirks of the traffic lights at different intersections, hidden driveways, and roads that look flat but are actually very gradual inclines would have escaped my notice if you hadn’t pointed them out to me.

In you, I found freedom I didn’t know I lacked. Before we met, it took me ages to get anywhere. Although I enjoyed walking, it took up a lot of time. I didn’t drive anywhere because I don’t know how, and driving is impractical anyway because traffic is slow and parking is scarce and expensive. And if I took the bus, I was always travelling on someone else’s schedule. Now, you and I can go anywhere whenever we want. While the roads are filled with trapped cars waiting for the procession ahead of them to make it through the next light, we gleefully zip past them down the bike lane. I create excuses to go places simply so I can spend more time with you. I can’t wait for the long and happy life we will spend together.

Love,
Chloe

P.S. Be nice to Beatrice. Having a younger sister has been an adjustment for her.

A 26-year old white woman with short blonde hair, wearing a red and grey plaid shirt and black glasses smiles while posing with her orange bicycle.

A 26-year old white woman with short blonde hair, wearing a red and grey plaid shirt and black glasses smiles while posing with her orange bicycle.

*Yep, I know my bike can’t read.

Kim’s Tour de Yorkshire*

*… in which Kim is bested by some outrageous hills, but not broken in spirit.

 

(A mosaic of images from West Yorkshire: Kim’s bike, saddle first, with the moors in the distance; a road sign that says “that was so Hebden Bridge”; Kim and her bike in front of a stone wall that says “lane end”.)

Remember how I always go on about hills? How I like them and am good at them?

Into each one’s life…

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(A road sign that says “Cragg Vale: longest continuous gradient in England. Rises 970 feet (295m) over five and a half miles (9km)”)

I spent the first 10 days of July in the Calder Valley in West Yorkshire, famously home of the Bronte sisters, and the 2015 Tour de France Grand Depart, depending on your fetish. (Mine involves both – swoon.) There is tonnes to do in the pretty market town of Hebden Bridge, but my bike was with me so my first priority was the riding.

Here’s the thing about Yorkshire, though: it is a cycling Mecca (for mountain as much as for road riders) because the fine folk who built the lanes don’t believe in switchbacks.

If you’re going to do a road ride in the Calder, you need to be prepared to climb. Doesn’t matter what you do: there is ascent to be faced. I wanted, in particular, to partake of the fine views over the moors that make this part of the British Isles justly famous; that meant I really needed to be ready to get up off the saddle, early and often.

No problem! I thought. After all, I might not be a tiny cycling whippet, but I’m really good at that shit.

On my first day out, I chose a route (from the several on offer at the excellent Calder Valley Cycling website) that included a long, snaking climb with most gradients in the 5-10% range. That’s my preferred kind of climbing: you can sit and grind, and if, like me, your strengths lie with endurance sports, you’ll not max out and will really enjoy the challenge and the views. Although I won’t lie, I was nervous to start, I felt great throughout that climb as the sun broke through the clouds, and I was rewarded with some sloping descents and then a short punch up into the farm lanes above Sowerby and Mytholmroyd.

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(Kim, in white cap and green helmet, smiles into the camera with green, sloping farmland in the background.)

As soon as I hit the lanes, though, I got my first taste of what was to come the rest of the week: narrow roads that don’t look like much to start, but wow, do they pack a punch, and sometimes when you least expect it.

Still, with the gorgeous views all around me and the happy feelings from the winding climb still in my arms and legs, I shoved my worry to the back of my brain. I took the set route’s lovely descent through Cragg Vale, the longest continuous climb in England, down toward Hebden, and then thought to myself: it’s cheating to go down but not up. So I turned around and did the climb (another happy, winding, mid-grade number), just to know that I could.

All in all, then, day one was terrific. But I knew it wouldn’t last.

My second ride out proved my rude awakening, though in a way I found really instructive: I learned a lot about myself as a cyclist that day.

I left in the early afternoon, and chose a short route with a big challenge: Cross Stone Road leaving Todmorden for more gorgeous views over the moors. The information online said the climb included a short punch of less than 1km followed by a longer, flat stretch, and then a steep but shortish kick up to the top. I reasoned that the word “short”, repeated a couple of times, meant I’d be fine.

Yup. Nope.

After missing my turn on the way into Todmorden and having to backtrack, I found myself on a steep but manageable residential road. I made the mistake of standing and pushing hard at this point, taking the “short” thing literally. Mistake number one! I found soon the road was not levelling, and I had to sit and push hard, breathing at my threshold, for a good 500m before the flat began. I heaved through the growing heat (Yorkshire is not hot, but sun plus no wind plus exertion is what it is), and prayed the second bit would hurt less.

Then the second bit heaved into view.

To say I was slow would be an understatement. The walker I clocked about 200m ahead of me as I began the punch ultimately beat me up the hill – though in my defence I had to stop twice: once to negotiate the single lane with a grocery van, and once just because I needed to cry a bit and ask god to save me. (I also needed to catch my breath: you can’t ride at VO2 max for as long as I was taking to get to the top, and not risk puking, which I did not want to do in full view of the confused sheep around me.) But I made it on two wheels: crying and praying or none, I refuse to walk any hill I’ve started on the bike.

I’m vain like that.

The rest of the ride was hard: I was spent from the climb. I got back to Todmorden, snapped some photos of the start of the climb to remind myself of the pain I’d endured, and home I went to eat.

OriginalPhoto-520961962.374086

(Kim’s grey and orange bike against a stone wall, with a prominent white road sign that says “cross stone road”.)

The rest of my Calder rides varied between these two poles: long, picturesque climbs I’d ride again and again, and short, painful bursts of 18-22% gradients that I was convinced I had to do in order to prove I could, but that made me hate myself, my bike, and the world for the 5-10 minutes required to finish them.

Over the week, I began to think I had hold of the wrong end of the saddle, so to speak.

My first clue came from Strava. I’m a Strava junkie, and I uploaded my rides immediately upon each return. The long climbs were full of riders, many of them pro or semi pro. (My proudest moment: learning I was 32 on the leader board for the climb up to Oxenhope, with the British cycling star Emma Pooley at number 6. Squee!)

But hardly anyone did the crazy steep climbs: I’d be among 300-400 riders on the winds, but maybe one of 20 on the punches. I scored 8th overall on the climb where I stopped twice, for heaven’s sake! I think there were 11 or 12 of us in all.

Then there was the part where I felt joyous and free on the winding climbs, but sick and demoralised on the punches. Where I wanted to climb more on the winds, but I wanted to stop, cry, and turn around on the punches.

I wouldn’t let myself stop, though, because I thought stopping meant failing. It hadn’t occurred to me that, since punching is not my strong suit, maybe I shouldn’t have attempted those routes. Maybe they were not fun – not even a fun challenge, just a terrible, unhappy slog.

I’m a big proponent of challenging myself in sport, but the challenge needs to be both challenging and, ultimately, rewarding. I did not feel rewarded on any of those little punches; I was just grumpy and out of breath. What good is that?

On the train back to London I thought about this. Why did I really want to conquer the brutal little hills, when I train best, get stronger faster, and feel more satisfied on longer climbs? Why did I care about 500m at 20%, when as a cyclist I’m best suited to 5km at 5-7%?

Sure, you could say all climbing is learning, and all learning good training.

Except: the more I pondered it, the more I realised it actually, for me, had to do with body image.

I am not small: I am 174cm tall and I weigh 77kg. It doesn’t matter much that my fat to muscle ratio is such that I’m technically athletic; that’s still a huge amount of weight to haul up the side of a cliff, on the vertical.

My strength profile means I can kill a shallow climb, but my body weight puts me at a significant disadvantage the steeper you get. And that’s fine: there are climbers and sprinters and all-rounders in the world of cycling as a norm.

But for a girl alive and well under patriarchy, being too heavy to climb a steep hill easily has other reverberations; it smacks of the whole body-mass-index culture that tells us to be teeny, already, or hate ourselves forever.

And readers of this blog all know where that kind of thinking leads.

(My body mass index makes me technically overweight, just as my muscle ratio makes me technically athletic. Thanks, stupid and ineffective measures!)

Through one lens, you could say I learned in Yorkshire that I’m too heavy to punch, and should admit defeat and move on.

Through another, you could say I learned that I’m fit and strong enough to rate in the top 10% or better on iconic climbs that the pros even find challenging.

That punching is not what I’m good at, and so I need not worry about punching just for the heck of it when I could be winding up a mountainside, happily, instead.

And that, hey: if the walker beats you to the top, maybe you should just walk, already, and save the bike for another stretch of road.

 

WisCon41 all the feels about disability 

I had a great time at WisCon last year and was delighted when David had offered to go together.  It’s a long drive from London, Ontario to Madison, Wisconsin but totally worth it!

This year I brought my swimsuit, running shoes and yoga mat. I did swim Thursday night to stretch after the drive down.

The rest of the weekend I managed to get 8-10 thousand steps a day. I’m not sure how but it may have been going further afield for food.

a thick brown pottery plate from the 70s is heaped with thick slices of golden french toast. This is topped with strawberries, blueberries, pecans, powdered sugar and creme fraiche

My new love, giant French toast

I slept much better this time around, largely due to not submitting for writing workshops which had made me a twinge nervous. I am committed to putting writing in next year though!

As last year, I loved the panels. I attended so many great sessions on everything from food and culture in sci-fi to unpacking portrayals of mental health in fiction.

Due to a mix up on my part I ended up in “Beyond the Fix or How Do I Live this F***ing Life?”

the photo is of the event schedule that indicates the topic is in the Feminis and Other Social change Movements stream of the conference. The panel short description: When you know there's no fix, your disability's never getting better, might get worse, and acceptance is the only possibility, it's time to share aka vent. On this panel we'll air our pet grievances, exchange survival strategies, and discuss the challenges - both surprising and predictable- of a life with disability. We'll also share the stories we've used to keep going. #beyond the fix
Friends, there were so many feels as folks shared their experiences of coming to understand disability and how it has impacted their lives. Many people in the audience were coming to realize that “disability” was a word that described their life too.

My favourite moment was when Jesse the K spoke about how she learned to shift her identity from an independent woman to being interdependent and connected in community.

I reflected on my privilege of living with Major Depressive Disorder and being able enough to stay fully employed. I thought about how my morning routine of stiff joints may hold greater mobility challenges in the future. I thought about my unilateral hearing loss and how my head tilts to put my good ear to a person talking. I thought about my intermittent vertigo. The stories shared by the panelists were on the continuum of ability and disability and I shift along those lines, mostly invisible.

There is a piece about fitness that I don’t talk about, the part where age & ability turn and mean I won’t get faster, better, stronger. Sometimes my goal is to simply slow the slide or manage pain.

It was humbling to really grapple with what my future will hold, especially around chronic pain, and I’m grateful for the mix up that lead me to sit in on this panel in particular.

The absolute best part was that I met even more of David’s lovely librarian friends, some of whom read this blog!

The weekend was just what I needed.

The photo is a headshot of Natalie, with her sunglasses sitting up on top of her head. She is outside waling to breakfast, smiling, wearing a necklace that is the anatomical structure of seratonin.
I feel great and, unlike last year, no mobility or pain from my travels. Just a wince at re-entering a patriarchal society.

This is how I travel now

My partner was awarded a trip to Punta Cana! Wahoo! So Saturday morning I’m airborne and heading south to a week at a resort. 

I’ve never chosen a trip to the Caribbean before. I have complicated feelings about flying for leisure, the environmental impact of all inclusive resorts and wealthy people’s entitlement about seeing/consuming the world. I didn’t let these complicated feelings keep me from joining my partner on the trip.

The last time I flew for personal reasons was before my now fifteen year old son was born. The last time I flew in the military was a year or two after that. It’s been a long time. I do love flying. It’s the sounds and smells of jet engines, the crackle of radios and the magic of escaping the earth through sheer thrust. Even if you know the math jet planes just don’t look like they should fly and yet they do. It’s marvelous. 

During my time in the military I discovered I’m delightfully prone to GI distress. I once had a crippling bout in Florida. Sad really. So this is how I travel now:

A collection of over the counter medicines detailed in the text that follows
Let’s start at the top left with a Diva cup because, thanks to middle age, any day can be a menstruating day. Next is antacids and antidiarrhea to manage my increasingly sensitive guts. 

Next row blood pressure meds, these are simply not optional. Solid sunscreen for my face and a big tube of sunscreen. Preventing sunburns is just smart. Heat stroke, blisters and pain are just not necessary for my fun in the sun week. Note that the sunscreen is followed by after sun gel for the inevitable sunburn. Ibuprofen for menstrual cramps, sore back from a strange bed and, hopefully, to relieve any strains and sprains I might sustain from vigorous activities. I’m really hoping for a sex injury on this trip. It would make a great story. 

Finally, antihistamines round out my travel pack. I’ve hay fever and am scent sensitive as well as allergic to most animals. I’m allergic to cats so much that when I hug my cat loving friends my eyes swell up. Yup. I’ve become this person who packs for every possible health concern. 

There was a time I would pack a couple changes of underwear and two shirts for a week. I didn’t appreciate the ease of traveling when young without prescriptions or unpredictable periods and I think I just didn’t have a big enough bank of bad experiences to know all the ways things go wrong for me. 

I’m so very fortunate to go on this awesome trip. I’m ready for fun in the sun with a wide brim hat and sunglasses. 


My partner wants an active trip and I love swimming, snorkeling and kayaking but I’m also looking forward to sleeping, eating and drinking without caregiving or being in charge of meals. 

It’s a once in twenty years kind of experience. Very different from my usual vacations to New Brunswick and I can’t wait to tell you how it goes. 

On the road (again)

Road signs for Boston Logan airport and Brighton/Cambridge on Interstate 90 in Boston.

Yesterday I left Boston for South Bend, IN, for a conference at Notre Dame.  The conference is FEMMSS— The Association for Feminist Epistemologies, Methodologies, Metaphysics, and Science Studies.   I’ll be giving a joint talk with my colleague ( and friend of the blog) Dan Hicks, on weight categories and medical risk ( or lack thereof).

When I looked at Facebook, I got one of those “X years ago today” posts that I could choose to share.  Mostly they’re mundane (like many of my posts– I don’t mind, as it’s what I use Facebook for often). Here’s the one I saw:

 

Facebook post featuring a picture of LAX terminal atrium, a person walking in foreground.

 

This time last year I was on my way to Sydney, Australia for the first time, going on sabbatical. It was a great trip and I’m extremely lucky to have the privilege of interesting travel. I flew a lot last year, and to a lot of different places.

And I’m flying a lot this year: a total of 6 conferences, two family trips, and  back to Australia for a month-long research trip.  That’s a lot of schedule interruptions.  It means having to plan meals, movement, and sleep in places where I often have more environment constraints and often less control.

One of those places is airports.  Wandering around at lunchtime, before my flight, I was greeted with a host of food options.  Since I was in Boston, there was of course Dunkin Donuts:

 

People waiting in line at a Dunkin Donuts in Logan aiport in Boston.

 

For those with more continental tastes there was the La Baguette Marche (I’m not sure that makes much sense in French):

 

People shopping in an airport food store called La baguette marche, in Logan airport in Boston.

 

And then there was the Friendly’s, with some advice that I appreciate, but decided not to heed right then and there:

 

A sign saying "Eat more ice cream" at a Friendly's restaurant in Logan airport in Boston.

 

Of all the foods to take with you on an airplane, I think ice cream might be the least practical.  At any rate I declined their offer.

I found a place selling sandwiches and salads and bought a tomato and mozzarella sandwich with pesto.  It was not great, but not bad tasting.

Figuring out food while traveling is not easy for me.  I want to eat in ways that feel good-for-me: in terms of taste, satisfaction, in keeping with what I think is healthy-to-me.  The ostentatious presence of these other food venues (which are around in my real life, but not generally with 15 feet of me) is something I find distracting and unsettling, if familiar.

One way to deal with this would be to develop some habits or rituals around eating-while-flying.  I have to say that I haven’t been successful at this so far.  Sometimes I bring food or snacks from home, which I sometimes eat and sometimes reject in favor of airport-purchased snacks.  Sometimes I have a sit-down meal in an airport.  Sometimes I order one of those more tempting and less healthy-to-me options.

It would be nice, at the very least, to feel a bit more at peace with the lack of control and overabundance of food while traveling.  What we really need is one of these in every airport.

Woman with carryon suitcase entering the yoga room at San Francisco airport.

This yoga room is at San Francisco airport.  I went there once, and it was lovely.  And there’s no Dunkin Donuts in there.

What do you do about eating while traveling?  Do you have a routine? I’d love to hear from you.

 

 

 

Bicycle Racing is Expensive! (Guest Post)

Valerie Leggett (Instagram: @valeriedleggett)

Valerie Leggett (Instagram: @valeriedleggett)

Hi there! This is my first fitisafeministissue post, so let me introduce myself. My name’s Rachel. I’m also a Canadian philosopher (who lives and works in the US), a feminist, and a life-long competitive athlete. My primary competitive sport used to be badminton, but since moving to Charleston, South Carolina, I’ve taken to bike racing. In my first season, I won the NC/SC combined state championship, along with a bunch of other regional races. I took to bike racing like a fish to water, one could say.

I have a few big goals. First, I’m aspiring to a professional cycling contract. Now, I won’t quit my day job! Hardly! Women’s professional cycling doesn’t pay well—if it pays at all!  Second, I want to win the 2017 Canadian Road and Criterium Championships (I’ll happily substitute an ‘or’ for the ‘and’). Third, I want to represent Canada at the 2020 Olympics.

But here’s the rub: bike racing ain’t cheap. I don’t think that’s really a surprise to anyone, but the costs don’t stop at our bikes. There’s maintenance costs (tires, tubes, chains, brake pads—although, as someone who likes to go fast, I try not to brake much!), race entry fees, travel costs (food, gas, rental cars, hotels—if one is lucky, one can arrange a ‘homestay’ where a family graciously offers room and board, or at least a couch to surf), clothing, and replacement costs for broken equipment when (not if, when) we crash. And that’s just for racing: there are also training costs, such as monthly coaching fees, training camps, and so on. These costs add up, and that’s after the ‘start up’ costs of a race-quality bike, helmet, shoes, wheels, and so on. I added it up my annual costs for a full race schedule, it’s $6000-9000 (USD). Per year.

Like I said, it ain’t cheap. As an amateur cyclist, nearly all of those costs fall on my shoulders. Sure, I’m on a local racing team, but that involves only a partial reimbursement of clothing costs (up to $265, which doesn’t go very far) and race entry fees (up to $400, where a single week-long series costs that much). We receive free or reduced-cost maintenance, as well as equipment discounts, by the local bike shop that sponsors us. But there’s no cash. There’s no free gear (except four team water bottles—don’t get me wrong, I enjoy them!). So it’s hard to get by.

You might wonder: Rachel, you win lots of races, can’t you just pay for your trips from the race payouts? Well, women certainly can’t. Payouts for women’s fields are typically a tiny fraction of men’s races—quite often 10-20%. We are a long way from equality. There’s a great documentary by Kathryn Bertine on this: Half the Road. Also, since our fields are often much smaller, we may not make the ‘field minimum’ for a full payout, and they may cut our payouts in half. And we don’t know whether the field will meet the minimum generally until we toe the line for the start. In some cases, I’ve been in big races where we didn’t meet the field minimum, so they cut our payouts by 50%. OK, I think that sucks (because if you want to grow women’s cycling, then offering good payouts is a great way to attract more racers next time), but at least that was on the race flyer. But they went one step further: they also cut the number of places paid out by half, which effectively reduced the total race payouts for the women field by 75%. If a race costs ~$40 to enter, women’s payouts are often only 2-3x the race entry fee: $80-120. And that’s if you win. Payouts for second or worse often barely cover the race entry fee (usually payouts off the podium don’t cover the entry fee).

Valerie Leggett (Instagram: @valeriedleggett)A

Valerie Leggett (Instagram: @valeriedleggett)A

In the top fields, populated by the best pro teams, the winner might make $1000, but it’s extremely difficult to win those races as a solo amateur (I’m generally the only women from my team in any given race). The race I won last weekend, for example, was an exception in that for a $30 race entry, the women’s payout was $100. I don’t own a car, so I have to arrange rides (which is extremely difficult when I’m the only woman racing from my team, because that means arranging with guys who might race at radically different times from me), or rent a car. The average rental costs about $35 (by going through a discount site), plus $40-60 in gas (depending on how far the race is), and the race entry fee. My expenses for that race were $27 in gas, $33 in race entry, $35 for the rental car: $95. Winning the race brought in $100. So include post-race lunch, and it’s a wash.

That’s a GOOD race situation. It was a close race (3hr drive), with a relatively decent payout, and I won. Most races don’t even come close to covering expenses, especially the bigger races, farther away. For example, I’m trying to plan to do the Northstar Grand Prix stage race in Minnesota in June. Renting a car and driving the 20hrs, doing the week of races, and driving back (including gas, stopping somewhere to sleep once each way) is a minimum of $500. The entry fee is $145, and I either need to find a homestay, or a week worth of hotels. Expensive trip! The alternative is to fly, which requires purchasing a sturdy bike box (upwards of $350) and a return ticket (probably in the $500 range).

So why this post? Well. Being an amateur bike racer is AWESOME. But it’s also very expensive. I was bemoaning this fact on Facebook, and reached out for suggestions on how possibly to raise money to help with reaching my goals. Someone suggested some crowdsourcing platforms, but ultimately it seemed best just to make a paypal.me account and start asking people to consider contributing to it. I haven’t quite planned out how to make this most effective. I post race videos on YouTube, and I’m active on Instagram and Twitter, particularly with an eye towards service towards my sponsors. One thought is to start including ‘Special Thank Yous to…’ additions to my posts for anyone who contributes and helps me fund a racing trip. Sam graciously asked me to write this post, explain a bit what costs are involved in committing to being an elite bike racer, and possibly get some traffic to my paypal. So…here it is: www.paypal.me/rachelvmckinnon. I would certainly appreciate any help y’all would be willing to give.

I do want to give a little love to those who support women’s cycling. Often our events don’t get the prime time slot, we don’t get media coverage, and we often don’t even have professional photographers covering our races. And not having good photos makes it hard to make sponsors happy, or to show people just how cool women who race are! So first a special thank you to Valerie Leggett (and Bruce Fuller!), who took me into her (their) home for a homestay for some recent races in the Tampa area, but she also took some kick-ass photos of the women’s races. You can find her on instagram at www.instagram.com/valeriedleggett Special people like her make women’s racing possible. I also want to give a shout-out to Weldon Weaver (I’ve included a couple of his photos from this past weekend). He takes professional photos of the women’s field (and the men’s, of course). He also clearly cares about supporting women’s cycling.

rm2

Weldon Weaver (Instagram: @fotowvr; Website: http://www.weldonweaver.com)

 

Greetings from Mallory’s Great Walk! (Guest Post)

at5

by Mallory Brennan

So before I started traveling around New Zealand, I knew I wanted to do many (possibly all) of NZ’s Great Walks. (There are 9 of them although one is a canoe/kayak trip not a walk.) This is a short blog post about tramping (hiking if you’re not a kiwi) the Abel Tasman Coast Track.

Why this one? First off, it’s gorgeous. Secondly, it’s easily accessible- water taxis will drop you off at various points and you can walk back, plus my bus picked me up from a campground 100 m from the end of the trail. Thirdly, last time I was there it was June and cold and wet and I wanted to see it in nicer weather. This time I was there in the summer which had much better weather!

So, I planned on it being a five-day trip. However, my watch didn’t realize it’s was a leap year and skipped Feb 29. So I woke up on my “planning day”, saw the date, panicked, packed in twenty minutes and rushed to the water taxi only to be told I was a day early. Oops. (I’d already separated from technology and turned my phone off for the week) Luckily the water taxi people let me go a day early so my five-day trip turned into a six-day trip.

To be honest, this was not one of my better planned trips. I had planned on a day to plan/pack before I left but instead packed in twenty minutes. Mostly this was fine, I’ve done enough tramping that I know what to pack pretty quickly/easily. And the Abel Tasman track is very accessible, water taxis are coming/going regularly from most of the beaches. And the track is clearly marked and I wasn’t walking huge distances. Where my quick packing was an issue was food.

Normally when tramping I carry a small backpacking stove (if anyone is buying one I love my MSR Whisperlite). And in fact, I brought mine with me. However, I didn’t bring a fuel bottle (airline travel restrictions) and they are almost as expensive as the stove itself (once you buy them the fuel is cheap though). Plus I didn’t have a pot, utensils, lighter, any of the usual cooking gear I have at home. So I had decided to not cook any food on this trip and to cook food in advance. However, when I “lost” my planning day, I simply shoved any food I had that didn’t need cooking into my pack: bread, a jar of peanut butter, OSM bars, carrots, chocolate, dates, nuts. Not bad food but I ended up eating some strange meals.

Over six days, I traveled around 80 km. The track itself is only about 60 km but I did one section twice plus detoured to a few lookouts and waterfalls. I carried all my own gear- tent, mattress, sleeping bag, food, clothes. The weather was gorgeous and I was able to swim everyday. I was surprised both at how many people I saw and how empty it was- water taxis come/go regularly to many of the beaches but once you leave the main beaches it gets empty fast. I was also surprised by the range of experiences of the people I met camping overnight in the park- some people had all the gear, were cooking fancy meals over their stoves, were clearly prepared. Others were traveling without proper gear- a guy with a hammock (with no covering) instead of a tent and hoping it wouldn’t rain, a girl carrying a bag of (uncooked) pasta but no stove, pot, dishes or even a fork to eat it with hoping someone would have pity on her. But again, this trail is clearly marked and if you get into too much trouble, you can just wait on a beach until a water taxi shows up.

The first 4 nights I tented in the designated campgrounds along the trail. I say campgrounds but all they had was a sign, drinking water and a toilet. Nothing else. I bought a tent here in NZ which I’ve fallen in love with, it will likely come home with me and join my collection. (It’s a Kathmandu Mono tent if anyone is interested). I brought a small sleeping bag and my mattress with me from home since I knew I’d be camping. Camping gear is one of the hardest parts about backpacking since anything I buy has to either get left behind or carried with me for the next six months. At home I have a growing collection of gear to choose from depending on the trip whereas here I really have to limit myself.

My last night I stayed at a floating backpackers, Aquapackers, in Anchorage. BBQ dinner and a night onboard the boat before my last day of hiking.

The weather was fantastic, the views were unparalleled, everybody I met was friendly. The trail was easy to follow, and relatively flat (for NZ which means it really wasn’t flat!).

Would I do this trip again? Absolutely! But first I’m already planning which of the other Great Walks I can do while I’m here in New Zealand.

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