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Spring Break 2018 – West Virginian adventures, Saturday, 02-June

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Spring Break 2018 – West Virginian adventures, Saturday, 02-June

A West Virginia adventure – Spring Break in the New River Gorge, 2018

Saturday, 26-May, through Saturday, 02-June, 2018

Life is old there, older than the trees. Younger than the mountains, blowing like a breeze. Country roads, take me home… to the place, I belong! West Virginia, Mountain momma… take me home, country roads.”

I’m pretty sure that the first real spring break I ever had was with Daniel, years ago, when we drove down to the New River Gorge to climb, and attend the New River Rendezvous. Since that year, we’ve done our best to always link up and go on some glorious climbing trip on or around Memorial Day. This year was a tough one, with Sarah breaking her leg, but she insisted that I go anyways, and let her live vicariously through me as she convalesed at home. I’d already cleared the week as vacation with my boss, even before I was hired for the project, so I was free and clear for a throwback adventure…

 

 

Saturday

Our last day dawned, and was greeted with Eggs and a rather impressive pile of leftovers from the BBQ the night before.

When I say “a rather impressive pile”, I don’t know if you quite understand… I’m talking about a to-go box weighing a few pounds. We’re talking nearly an entire chicken. And that’s the leftovers from us all gorging ourselves till we were overfull the night before. Firecreek doesn’t mess around with portion sizes, I tell you what.

But anyways, it was a short breakfast. We had a lot to do – cleaning up, clearing out track and recycling, basically all those things that one would normally leave to housecleaning at a hotel. It’s a downside of an AirBnB, but I’m pretty okay with it – I mean, we used those dishes and generated that trash, right? It’s only fair that we spend an hour at the end of the week cleaning it all up.

After that were our sad goodbyes, and then a long road ahead for me and the rented Kia.

 

I honestly don’t mind driving. It’s pleasant, I can half-zone out, and I get to see beautiful scenery.

The mountains of West Virginia are absolutely one of those places that I wouldn’t mind driving through, just spending hours cruising through small towns and around bendy mountain roads.

And what an unexpected coincidence, that’s exactly what I had to do in order to get back to DC!

 

Since the rest of the trip is kind of boring (going home usually is), I’m just going to give a few quick bullet points below:

    • Get gas, then blast my way through the mountain towns to the main highways. It goes quickly – I’m more awake and energetic than I was on the drive in, and I’ve got better music queued up too. Awww yeah techno!
    • Get to the highways, and spend some time chatting with people on the phone. Catch up, and get some solid family time. Is good. Then, back to rocking the techno!
    • One last stop for gas and “chicken” nuggets, and I’m at the airport
    • Return car, get bags checked… ohh lord the check process is insane. Too many people, not enough kiosks, no line control. Then security… with way too much line control! Line markers everywhere, keep us walking in random loops just to waste time and energy… which is honestly really smart. Go you, Dulles. Go you.
    • Once I’m through, it only takes a bit of time to get to the gate, and then… I get to chill! Yay youtube! So many movie clips!
    • I get extra movie clips, because the flight is delayed! Boo!
    • Holy wow, so delayed. And then, once we’re on… we sit on the tarmac! Sweeeeet.

The last bit of the trip was the sweetest part of the day, even including that delicious leftover BBQ that I had for dessert: When I got out of security at the airport.

I was planning on just heading down to get my bag, and then getting a Lyft home. Probably cook something up quick once I got there?

But instead, there was a Sarah waiting for me with snacks and kisses!

An excellent end to an amazing trip.

 

The Great North-Island Adventure: A New Zealand Road Trip – Day 3

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It’s finally time – to pack up my bag again and move on from New Zealand. What calls me onward is not a new country, but instead a return to a home that I haven’t seen in months. I would enjoy staying in New Zealand for another six months, but unfortunately a lack of good job options and my non-infinite bank accounts have conspired together, and the clearest course for me is to return home to rest and rebuild my finances before starting out again on another world trip.

For now, what that means is that I am taking my leave of Christchurch. While the city has been amazing to me, I haven’t had the time to see anything of the North Island as of yet, and so I’ve planned out a road trip in order to remedy this.

The dawn broke… and then shattered into a thousand droplets that rained down onto my tent. So I guess the bugstorm did help me out a bit, in the end, since they forced me into setting up my tent versus simply laying out a sleeping pad. That realization didn’t make getting out of the tent any easier though, and it took me nearly half an hour to finally motivate myself enough to brave the rainstorm.

Once I did leave the tent, I found myself in a place that looked a bit like what I had seen the night before – the fog was thick over the road, the rain was drizzling down (not nearly as bad as it had seemed while inside the tent), and everything was coated in a thick layer of “eww, I want to go back to sleep!” Thankfully all of the sandflys that had infested the car the night before seemed to have died, or at least disappeared, and so I was able to stuff my sleeping back back into my backpack without any interference from small flying insects. I didn’t end up packing the tent up though, opting instead of just let it sit in the back seat and hopefully dry out a bit before I got into Auckland that night.

And so, back onto the road I went. The morning wasn’t really much different from the night before, if we’re being honest, except for the possibility of the landscape being even more creepy in the daylight. The sun hadn’t fully broken the clouds and fog by the time I started off again, and so my total visibility was just a few hundred meters. This combined with two other facts to convince me that we, as a planet, were being invaded my alien war-robots: I was driving under power lines, and the fog was still thick around the hills. Why did that convince me of an alien invasion? On the side of the road all that I could make out was the vague shape of hills rolling by, each topped with a large bipedal metal creatures standing guard like great sentinels.

(Ed Note: if you weren’t sure, Ben means that the Electrical line towers were blanketed in fog just enough to look line alien robots on top of the hills that he was driving by)

As the morning wore on, the fog did slowly lift off of the landscape, and I got to see more of the reason why people love New Zealand – the countryside is amazing. The hills and rock outcroppings slowly rolled by as I drove, and I started to notice a strange thing… New Zealand driving distances seem to be off; either that, or the speedometer on the car I was driving was significantly off. I suspect the latter, since its was a rental car, but either way the distance that I was traveling did not pass nearly as quickly as my speed would lead one to expect, and I spent a significantly longer time driving that I expected.

After driving for a few hours I was finally wide awake, just in time to arrive at the town of Taupo. Taupo’s a small touristy town on the edge of the aptly named “Lake Taupo”. What makes the area special are the geothermal vents around the area, and the hotsprings that they feed. As such, my first goal after I parked the car was to figure out where some hotsprings were, so that I could relax in the natural sauna of New Zealand. The i-Site sent me in the right direction, and after a short walk I was relaxing and soaking in a small pool at the side of a large river.

The pool was fed by a stream running out of the hills, in a little waterfall at the far end of the pool. From here, nearly-boiling water heated the pool up, and cold water from the adjacent river helped to regulate the temperature of the pool to a quite lovely level. I wasn’t alone in the pool of course, but thankfully I seem to have a fairly high tolerance to heat, and so I was able to have a small corner all to myself. And thus I spent nearly an hour slowly cooking myself in the pool – sitting in the shade of a tree, my back against a warm rock and the hot stream falling right next to me as I read my book.

On the way back I explored the hot springs park for a quick bit, wanting to stretch out my boiled muscles a bit before sitting back down in the car for the last leg of my trip. I found a thing called a “confidence course”, which appeared to be an amazingly fun obstacle course consisting of 15 or so stations that incorporate strength, climbing, and generally a fear of heights. Pretty much perfectly my thing, and I think I’d like to set one up somewhere, and use it as a timed full-body workout.

Unfortunately I did have to push onwards though, since while I was soaking I had received a few text messages confirming everything about the place I was going to be Couch Surfing for the first few days of my stay in Auckland. First though, I stopped into town and hunted myself down some lunch – Its strange, but until coming to New Zealand I almost never ate sushi, and now I find myself eating it nearly constantly. I don’t know if its just a more integral part of Kiwi culture, sushi shops are more prevalent, or just that Boston doesn’t have many good places to get sushi, but either way I definitely enjoy it, and think that I’ll start making some myself when I get back to the States.

After the above lunch of Sushi and mocha (mocha is the greatest drink ever, FYI) I got back into the car and wandered off onto the main road. It was beautiful, the road was simple, and it was boring. Thats really all there is to say about it – too much of a good thing means that the good thing becomes normal, and normal things start to get boring.

My one distraction on the road from Taupo to Auckland was an encounter with some roadwork. Not a good distraction, you would think – not so for me. You see, I was stuck behind a bus. A bus full of grade-school boys. They looked back, saw me, and flipped me off. In return, I made a funny face straight out of Calvin and Hobbes. They responded in kind, and after less than 30s the entire back window of the bus was full of kids making faces and doing crazy dances while we waiting for the traffic cop to let us pass through. It actually got to the point that I ran out of funny faces to make, had worked through my inventory of horrible disco dance moves, and had started into random fencing moves with my pen… yes. I am a mature man who has a degree in Engineering and has worked for a Top-50 company. But that doesn’t mean I have to act it 😛

What else is there to say of my Great North Island roadtrip? Nothing, to be honest. I arrive in Auckland right when I planned (for once), and me and my Couch Surfing hosts relaxed, chatted, ate some dinner and got to know each other over a glass of wine that I brought as a “thank you for hosting me” present. It was a simple night, where our class was completely at odds with my earlier face-making escapades. Its the dichotomy of my life that I love so much – getting to be completely immature and rediculous one minute, and then sit in an extremely high-class loft apartment drinking wine and discussing international economics the next.

The Great North-Island Adventure: A New Zealand Road Trip – Day 1

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It’s finally time – to pack up my bag again and move on from New Zealand. What calls me onward is not a new country, but instead a return to a home that I haven’t seen in months. I would enjoy staying in New Zealand for another six months, but unfortunately a lack of good job options and my non-infinite bank accounts have conspired together, and the clearest course for me is to return home to rest and rebuild my finances before starting out again on another world trip.

For now, what that means is that I am taking my leave of Christchurch. While the city has been amazing to me, I haven’t had the time to see anything of the North Island as of yet, and so I’ve planned out a road trip in order to remedy this.

Day 1

They key to this road trip of mine was a car. I obviously don’t own one, and I can’t afford to rent one, so what could I do? Car relocation was the solution that I came up with; a service where I volenteer to drive a rental car from one airport to another in a specific time frame. I don’t pay for the rental, and in return I make sure to deliver the car by a certain date and time. Not a bad deal, when I just need a way to get from one city to another, but want to actually see the space in between instead of simply flying over it.

So Sunday morning found me dragging myself out of bed before 8:00 so that Mike and I could drive out to the Christchurch Airport to pick up this car. It took us a while to find the renal agency, since it wasn’t one that we had dealt with before, but once we found it everything about the pickup went smoothly… though not quickly I’m afraid. I waited for over an hour and a half before I was finally given the keys to the car, but since I wasn’t paying for the rental I couldn’t really find a reason to complain too loudly. And so, after a quick overview of the car and a damage-check to make sure I would be getting my security deposit back, I headed out with a fancy new Sirion Daihatsu.

Mike and I met up again to have a quick going-away breakfast at a small place I had found earlier called Drexel’s (Yes, I think this is actually related to the school my sister goes to, Drexel University, since from what I can tell their both named after the same guy) where we chatted for a short bit and ate ourselves an amazing Breakfast… I really don’t know what it is, specifically, that draws me to Pancakes to strongly. But whatever it is, there is honestly no breakfast better than a tall stack of pancakes with Bacon and Eggs on the side.

After saying my final (for now) goodbyes to Mike, I headed out again to do a final round of goodbyes to the other folks that I had promised I’d see before leaving – Oliva, Spanish, Storm, and Rachel. In all my visiting took a bit longer than I planned, but I’m quite happy that I did take the time; these people (and many others that I didn’t get to see that Sunday) had touched my lives in so many ways, and I was, and still am, very sorry that I had to take my leave of them. But, either fortunately or unfortunately, the world continues to turn and I had to continue one with my adventures on the open road.

And that open road was… boring. Right outside of Christchurch I got trapped in almost an hour and a half of traffic caused by some accident that required the services of not one, but three fire trucks. The only consolation for me was afterwards when I got to really stretch the cars legs on the coastal highway… I had honestly forgotten how much I love driving manual-transmission cars, and driving this one around was reminding me how amazingly better it is than driving a normal automatic transmission.

But no matter how quickly I drove, or how much fun I had shifting gears to tear around the corners, I couldn’t shake the knowledge that I was going to miss my ferry. You see, I was on the south island, and the only way across is via an inter-island ferry that goes from the town of Picton to the city of Wellington. And it was set to board at 5:05… significantly before I was going to make it there. Thankfully I was able to rebook the ferry passage without trouble when I did finally arrive (nearly two hours late, but thats neither here nor there), and so I went from being two hours late, to having nearly two hours to kill before the ferry started boarding.

I burned up this time by visiting a small pub called the “Toot n’ Whistle” for a quick bite to eat, and then sitting and taking a nap in the car, since I had a feeling I wouldn’t be getting much sleep on the ferry. Unfortunately I was right, and the ferry ride ran into more than a few waves on its three-hour tour to Wellington. Yes, seriously, a “three hour tour”… not a cursed time-frame at all, no one’s ever been shipwrecked for decades from one of those… Has anyone rescued Gilligan yet? I don’t know.

The ferry ride itself was slow and long, and found me starting to understand how ancient sailors could have believed in sea monsters so easily. It was pitch-black outside, even with the running lights of the ship lit on the decks, but every once in a while you’d notice something in the water, some small reflection of the light that would catch the eye and cause the brain to go into conniptions trying to figure out what it could possibly be. And the result was always “something big and scary that wants to eat you”. The fact that the ship would be creaking and moaning around me didn’t help any, let me tell you. Even with my headphones and movies playing on the laptop, I was unconvinced that we’d ever make landfall, and doubly convinced that some sort of sea-serpent was waiting for us just below the waterline.

Once the ferry did finally arrive, I quickly made my way back to the car, and onto the highway looking for a place to stay. At the rental place I had commandeered a whole book of accommodations, and so I had found a cheap place that I was planning on staying that night – just a small campground about 20min outside of the city. It took a bit of searching to finally find it, thanks to the horrendously early hour, but soon enough I was laying out my sleeping bag and pad on the grass, and dozing off to sleep under the stars.