Five tips to make travelling your lifestyle

In the last 10 years, I have lived on three continents, five countries and about 30+ places. Some of them weren’t longer than a month, one lasted for an entire six months. It was almost worth noting down the address. I truly love travelling, moving around and meeting new people and cultures. I am not afraid of moving to a new continent without knowing a soul, the language or the culture. In fact, I thrive on the excitement of experiencing new adventures.

Rather than travelling, I call it moving because I do immerse myself into my surroundings, in fact that is a must for me. I don’t like to be a tourist and prefer to stay where the locals live and do what the locals do as told here.

Although moving to an unknown places seems scary at first, there are ways to make this an amazing adventure. Here are few tips:

  1. To make moving easy, I own just enough stuff that I truly need, nothing more. Despite being an absolute bike addict, I only have one bike. Carrying extras of anything makes me feel weighed down. The adventures I am experiencing discredit any materialistic belongings. Stuff weighs me down. Experiences lift me up.
  2. Be happy with yourself alone. Don’t be afraid to be alone in a new country where you don’t speak the language or understand the culture. Yes, it seems at first overwhelming and scary but exactly those intense emotions you will never forget and appreciate even more because they make you feel alive.
  3. Smiling opens doors. There is no better way to communicate. Enough said.
  4. Be proactive. Moving into a new country but then hanging out in front of the TV is not worth the effort. Get out with or without a plan. You learn so much from looking around.
  5. There is no better strategy to learn than observing. Find out why the locals do certain things. How they behave. How they interact. What is different than what you are used to and why could that possibly be?

Travelling is an enriching and rewarding experience. Just buy a plane or train ticket and get out! With or without plan.

Because life is a journey!


An epic hike – How to get dropped right out of the parking lot

Last weekend I joined a few Kiwis for a tramping trip in the Fjordland – at least that was the plan.

Reality was far away from it.

A month ago, I was invited for a 50km+ hiking trip by Andrew – my current roommate. Sounded epic, adventurous and tough. Oh I was totally game!

Well, the closer the time came to prepare for this hiking trip, the more I thought about its meaning. 50k on my feet, walking, not turning pedals, but walking.
When exactly did I do that the last time? No memory!

With the approach of action time, I learned the small but significant details: We would start the track at around 10pm and run to a hut up the mountains, “but don’t worry, Monika, we are walking the uphills and run the flats and downhills”. The run would take 2-3 hours if we are fast. Then sleep until sunrise (6am) and run/hike to the end of the trail and hike back.

After some intense discussion with my ligaments, joints and muscles waist down, I decided not to be a sissy and go for it. Getting ready for the hike meant packing for all weather conditions New Zealand has to offer aka snow,hail,sun,rain,showers,and everything between.
I think by the time I tested my backpack I had four times as much clothes with me on this 24h adventure than for my eight day bike ride the week prior.

11pm in the parking lot we were finally ready for the adventure. While I was packed in three layers, everyone was half-naked. I naively ignored this more than obvious warning.

When I was still adjusting the straps on my backpack my fellow hikers started running towards the trail. I lurched my heavy legs into forward shuffling mode when I realized that was not enough to catch up.

The flat terrain was not exactly flat as it rose to 3-4% and my quads gave me the distinct and clear “above lactate threshold alert”. The Kiwis kept going. I, confused, what this all meant for the next 49.5k. After a few kilometers they notived my absence, stopped and waited for me. Me, huffing and puffing approaching them, “no need to wait for me!”.”No worries, we are just getting rid of clothes.” (Uhm, which clothes?)

Well, we planned that game for another three times when they stopped waiting for me “No worries, we are stretching” “No worries, we need to eat something”. But eventually they ran out of excuses to stop for me and I ran totally out of gas – lactate has fully invaded my lower extremities. Battle was lost!

And I got really tired – that feeling when you do a really high intensity workout and all of a sudden you could just lay down and fall asleep – that kind of tired! Fortunately enough, after an eternity and a half (around midnight) we stopped at a hut, and Andrew said I could sleep on the cushion surface in the main room of that hut. A nod later I was knocked out on a narrow padded bench in a kitchen of an isolated hut in the middle of a forested mountain while they ran for another two hours up the mountain.

And that was the end of my planned hike with the Kiwis. In the morning I carried on alone and decided after another eight hours of hiking up and down mountain that a proper nap in the car would be justified while waiting for the crazy Kiwis to return.

Lesson learned: Don’t underestimate the fitness of a Kiwi with their incredible natural playground in their backyard!


A backpack and a bike and the horizon as the destination
When I left Dunedin 3.5 weeks ago with a small bag to explore the South Island of New Zealand, I did not anticipate that this would lead to an epic eight day cycling trip with an even smaller backpack. Only a few clothes, sun lotion, rain jacket, a bike,  a map and a friend from the US (Patrick) – enough to make this an unforgettable adventure.
Our plan? Well, heading in one direction in the morning and finding a place to sleep in the evening and do it again the next day. The uncertainty of sleep arrangement, terrain, weather and other unknown factors made this quite an adventure.

 

The sudden change of weather and wind made us change our destinations very spontaneously. It started right at the beginning when our Christchurch host, Rori, told us we could ride to Arthur’s Pass that day –150 km, mostly uphill, into a 50mph headwind, with heavy rain and temperatures in the 40’s — but it really would not be very pleasant.  (Gotta love summer in NZ!). We changed direction and ended up with this route in eight days including two hiking days:


I learned quickly that mileage does not mean anything in New Zealand. Wind (as in 60mph gusts) and terrain (like a 3k 16% Arthurs pass) are the deciding factors.

 

Kaikoura – our start location (nope, the picture is not color-enhanced)
Our sleep arrangements were the adventure on its own. On the first day, we decided to put signs with “Need bed in Blenheim” on our backpacks to find a place to stay for free. 
 
After a long day in the saddle, we were browsing the aisles of a supermarket in Blenheim while an older lady in a wheelchair stopped next to me and checked my sweaty, dirty, worn-out self from top to bottom out. I must have looked still somewhat decent because she invited us to their place. 
 
A sign on the backpack that got us our first sleep arrangement.
The second stay (via warmshowers.org) was just as surprising. The description of our free place near Murchison with similar conditions as a rain forest said: “Pass shed garden to the left and you will find our driveway a few hundred meters ahead.”

 

On arrival we learned that the shed was his house. The dwelling consisted of corrugated steel as a roof, plastic walls, no electricity, no heater, an outside toilet, outdoor showers from a hose and the nearby rain forest as the yard.

 

Corrugated steel as roof and plastic as walls



View from the “bathroom”



Grocery shopping before heading to the host house. 
Food dangling in front of my nose while riding the last few miles – dangerous!

 

My attire for the supermarket when everything else was getting washed.



Cooking after the ride. Don’t need to say how big the portions were.



After a rainy day near Murchison, I found my absolute favorite cycling route: The 100k coastal route from Westport to Greymouth.

Mountains and beach – so much to see.
Near Greymouth, we found a great backpacker place to stay that was surrounded by mountains. We decided to stay there an extra day and go for a hike. The hike was a climb up one of the mountains. It wouldn’t have been an adventure if we didn’t get lost. After walking into one direction with seemingly no end, we had to make the call – the call to our backpacker’s host who was so kind and picked us up – my first DNF on a recreational hike.
Surrounded by surreal vegetation 

Next on the agenda was the notorious climb up to Arthur’s Pass. 16% grade for 3km. Loved it!

 

 


Our final ride from Arthurs Pass back to Christchurch lead us from wet and mountainous terrain to dry and sunny flats. That’s New Zealand! Change of scenery, vegetation, weather and terrain within a very short distance.

For those who might be interested in doing a similar trip:
  • I have posted all my road cycling rides in New Zealand on Map My Ride. (Not sure how to share them here)
  • The stuff I had in my backpack: one cycling kit with arm and leg warmers, hiking shoes, one set of normal street clothes, sun lotion, rain jacket, and food. 
  • Weather and wind conditions guided us. We rode against the “northwesterlies” (NW Wind) and it took us a long, long time.
  • Weather reports are an OK indicator but could also change spontaneously. We completely changed our cycling route when we saw it was sunny and not the forecasted rain. 
  • We always had to apply sun lotion, no matter how stormy, rainy and windy it was. One item I wish I had with me was a hat. 
  • Our accommodation was a combination of friend of a friend’s places, warmshowers.org (cycling hospitality website) and backpackers. My favorites were staying with locals. Kiwis are such warm, welcoming and friendly people with a lot of insight knowledge to share. 
  • The two backpacker places I would recommend though are:
    • Brunnerton Lodge in Taylorville near Greymouth, very scenic, non-touristy with a great hike around the corner.
    • The Sanctuary in Arthur’s Pass. Low key, non-touristy, basic backpackers place.
I wanted to thank all the amazing people I met along the way of my NZ-wide adventure:

 

  • Thanks to Jenny and Kevin in Alexandra for your hospitality, the amazing food and for the insightful conversations.
  • Huge thanks to Reta and Robyn in Christchurch: You are awesome! Robyn, thank you very much for your great hospitality. Reta, es war der Hammer, dich kennenzulernen. Du bist einfach super! Ich hoffe, wir sehen uns bald wieder! Viel Erfolg in Deutschland dieses Jahr.
  • Thank you to Sheila in Washington, DC for connecting me with Rori in Christchurch. Rori, you were not only a wonderful host but also an incredible tour guide. I have never thought I would learn so much about earthquakes (and experience one!) as I did at your place.
  • Thanks to Bob, Gracia and Bill for hosting us in Blenheim and Murchison.
  • Big thanks to Bethy for hosting me in Oamaru, for your inspirational stories and for checking out penguins with me!
  • Last but not least, thanks to Patrick for sharing such an incredible adventure with me!

Week 2 in New Zealand

It has been almost 2 weeks since I have arrived in New Zealand. After a week in Dunedin (South east of the South Island) I started travelling West. A very welcoming couple who I connected with through warmshowers.org let me stay with them in Alexandra (between Dunedin and Queenstown). The climate and the terrain was very different from Dunedin. Less green, more brownish color. It was fairly flat (compared to Dunedin). Afterwards, I headed to Queenstown, the notorious adventure town where bungee jumping was invented. What a beautiful scenery towards the lake and mountains. Yesterday I headed to Christchurch. Although the city is flat, the group ride this morning introduced me to some serious climbs which seemed to pop up from nowhere.

My conclusion so far:
Only a few hours of driving lead one to a totally different climate, landscape and terrain.
Dunedin: very hilly with steep climbs, fresh and green and wet, plenty of great routes with spectacular scenery, vibrant city
Alexandra (Central Otago):dry climate, flat in general with a few mountains which are mostly accessible via mountain bike, tiny town
Queenstown: fantastic views, great climbs (Crown Range Rd, Coronet Peak), a lot of riding options, very touristy
Christchurch: flat, unfortunately due to the earth quakes a few years ago some roads are not accessible and in rough shape, a lot of bike lanes, big cycling scene

Some pictures in no particular order:

Just to get the bearings of New Zealand. I started in the Southeast of the South Island, in Dunedin, travelled West to Queenstown and then headed Northeast to Christchurch

 

Christchurch – That doesnt look exactly flat to me. The city does have some great climbs.

 

 

The view towards Mt Cook with the Pukaki lake in front. The lake color is turquoise due to the refraction of the glacier particles in the water. I have never seen that anywhere else before! (Unfortunately, my camera does not do justice)

 

This farmer must be very popular. On Crown Ridge Rd from Wanaka to Queenstown.

 

 

Southern Alps. Awesome climbs!

 

 

One of the few days where it was sunny all day long. Weather changes quickly.

 

On top of the ski hill in Queenstown.

 

 

Queenstown has great downhill tracks.

 

The water looks unreal. (On the way to Queenstown)

 

I barely made it through the coming cow train. 400 cows on the way to get milked. They yield 10 liters of milk each.

 

That was a steep downhill into a river bed which shot right back up

 

Superman!

 


A week in Dunedin

(Written Dec 18) I have been in Dunedin now for a week and it has been quite an adventure. Riding is excellent here. Hills after hills. Steep and relentless. Kiwis dont seem to bother to design their roads for the cars, if they want to have access to a certain point, they just built the most direct way, no matter if it is a 30% grade into a 90 degree turn that might be impossible for trucks to drive. If brakes dont work, well, good luck!

I absolutely love climbing all these hills. It’s a max effort every time. As a miserable descender I have learned to wonder every time I climb a hill, if I could descend it or if it would just create sheer terror. I learned this the hard way when I descended rather cautiously one of the mountains. It became so steep that I could not stop. I saw a sharp turn ahead. Straight ahead was a cliff with an even faster way down. I panicked. After a lot of calming self-talk and talk to my brakes, i finally came to a stop. I ended up walking down the road. Now, i am more careful about the road signs. One sign in particular.

On my 113km ride up a ridge I suddenly found myself in the middle of nowhere. I thought riding in rural Iowa was in the middle of nowhere. Nope. I found a even more middle of nowhere.

Only sheep. Steep descents and climbs. No houses, only an occasional farm. Once in a long while a car. Maybe every hour one human being in a visible distance. On the one hand, it was worrisome. All possible bad scenarios went through my head. But on the other hand what else would I need right now. I have my bike, food and water and I am surrounded by a stunning scenery.

Twice it happened to me that while riding up a steep hill, I took my eyes of the pavement and found 20 cows staring at me from the meadow next to me. When I passed them they started running next to me along. It was really funny!
If I can make any recommendations for one piece of gear to take a long, it would be a very good rain jacket. In those six hours of riding, I got rained on four times. Good brakes is another useful asset to have for reasons stated earlier.

Most of the rides i have done by myself. My cycling friends know that i dont like riding by myself. However, time flies while riding here. There is so much to see. Plus, the hills automatically push me to the limits and do not offer enough breath for a sophisticated conversation. I stayed in dunedin for a week, now travelling west into the southern alps searching for even longer and tougher climbs. Lord of the rings was filmed there.
Kiwis are a nice bunch. From the culture, I feel like i travelled to Europe. Dunedin is also very international. I meet more foreigners (mostly europeans) than kiwis.


First impressions of Dunedin, New Zealand
Today I had the chance to discover some parts of Dunedin on a bike. I made the following observations:
There are a lot of hills in Dunedin, A LOT!
Those hills start all at 6% grade. (For my Minneapolis friends: Ramsey hill on every corner)
The views on top of the ridge were stunning. Not only had I be cautious to ride on the right lane but I also had to be careful I don’t fall off the cliff while taking in the stunning view, the deep blue ocean, the juicy green grass decorated with white spots and an occasional baa. (Sheep)
I almost made a head-on collision with another cyclist. Believe it or not, bike paths have the same left side rule.
Car drivers do not care too much about cyclists. Barely any bike paths around. Even more a reason to ride the beautiful remote countryside.
Although the sun is hiding a lot, it is strong. I already got sunburnt. Plus, sunset is at 10pm!
Almost every day is a group ride going on in Dunedin! Sweet!

 

The picture of the day: