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Raging Headwinds, Magic of a Moonbow, New Zealand: You Can't Pedal Slowly Enough

Written by Subject: Travel

After our extraordinary adventure with Daphne and Murray Smith in Heavenly Valley, South Island, New Zealand, we pedaled westward toward Mt. Cook National Park.  

Please note one dramatic aspect of bicycle adventure, or any kind of exploration for that matter: you don't know what's going to happen next.  You can't plan on anything.  It's a moment-by-moment experience that can take you up or bring you down.  It can elevate your spirit or drive you into the dregs. During any adventure, you dig into the art of living.  You face "Eudemonia" ; "Satori" and/or "The Perfect Speed."  Sometimes, you may take it in stride, and at other times, you find yourself filled with danger and once in a while…pure wonder.

After enjoying some pretty stiff tailwinds all morning and into the afternoon, we turned right to ride 20 miles into Mt. Cook National Park.  While we enjoyed the tailwinds, we did not realize they were blowing 40 to 50 mph.  From the moment we turned the bikes, the tailwinds became sidewinds with a 10 percent headwind angle.   In other words, those winds pushed us sideways and backwards.  

"Good God," Doug shouted.  "This is going to be a tough 20 miles to get to camp."

"No kidding!" I yelled back. "Look at the white horses (white caps) raging across Lake Tekapo.  It's like a tornado raging over those waters."

"Let's get to it if we want to reach camp tonight," said Doug.

At first, we rode side by side at an angle so one of us blocked the wind to give the other a windbreak. But within a few minutes a gust blew Doug right into my bike. We crashed into a heap.

"Can't do that," he said.  "Let's keep our distance."

What should have taken one and a half hours, took us five hours to reach camp in Mt. Cook National Park.  The wind busted us up.

After we paid for the campground, and set up our tents, the wind died.  A Kiwi couple invited us over to their motorhome for dinner.  We enjoyed a fabulous feast and conversation.

Around  10:00 p.m., we stepped outside the motorhome to see a clear sky, but mist across the Saffron Glacier west of us.  To the east, Mt. Wakefield offered a few clouds raging off its crest with a full moon breaking over the top of it.  Once the moon broke into the sky, it created a rainbow arcing over Mt. Cook at 12,218 feet.  Full colors shown in an arc across the sky.

"What's that?" Doug said.

"I guess we could call it a 'moonbow'," I said.

"Works for me,"  he said. "I've never seen one before."

"Man, it's got a gauzy film dropping down in the middle," I said.

"This has got to be one of the most incredible phenomena I've ever seen," Doug said. 

"Who ever said that Nature doesn't put on a magic show?" I said.

We stood totally absorbed in the wonder before us. The moonbow's colors contrasted with the ink-black of space with millions of twinkling stars serving as a backdrop. In the foreground, the moonbow's colors contrasted with the aspirin-white snows blanketing the glacier. 

When I pitch my tent, I always pitch it toward the most interesting sight to wake-up to that I can find.  That night, I had turned my front flaps toward Mt. Cook.  As I lay there in the tent, I watched the moonbow finally vanish in front of Mt. Cook, only to see the moon glisten like a zillion diamonds over the face of the mountain.  That night, the two of us slept as if we were cradled in the arms Mother Nature.  Never slept so well!

In the morning, the sun lit up the snows of Mt. Cook. We packed our gear because the ranger warned us that Kea Birds would tear up our tents.  Those parrot-like birds would use their talons and beaks to tear into unsuspecting campers' tents.  Totally destroying them!

We put on our hiking shoes to make a four hour climb to Mueller Hut on the edge of a massive canyon where multiple glaciers hung off the sides of the walls.  Halfway up, Doug took a shot of me falling sideways into a glacial pond.  It froze me half to death, but I still have the photograph in my office with the Saffron Glacier in the background.

At the top, we met several folks from the UK, Swiss, French, German, Austrian, Aussies and Japanese.  One of the couples told us about a hiker who had slept at Mueller Hut the night before. He left his boots on the outside of the hut, but in the morning, he woke up in time to see a Kea Bird latch on to one of his boots.  He screamed at the bird and ran after it.  He ran all the way to the edge of the canyon to watch the bird drop his boot 2,000 feet to the river below.  As I said, you never know what adventure will bring to you.

By midafternoon, we reached the edge of the canyon. 

"Let's watch the show from here," said Doug, sitting down on a rock with his feet dangling over a 2,000-foot cliff.

"Don't mind if I do," I said.

For the next two hours, as the sun heated the canyon, we watched glaciers 'calve' across the canyon about a half mile away.   At first, we heard the sound, and then, the white cloud of ice puffing out from the break. From there, tons of ice fell to the canyon floor below.

"There's a big one," Doug said, pointing.

"Man, this is the best movie in the world," I said.  "And we've got a front row seat."

Late in the afternoon, we ate our sandwiches, drank from our water bottles and talked with other hikers about our good fortune to enjoy such a clear day and the amazing show before us.

"You ready to go?" I asked.

"I gotta' say," said Doug.  "Those Moeraki Boulders fascinated me with their five million years in the making, but to see these glaciers calve right in front us, well, today takes the cake.  But then, last night just blew my mind with the moonbow.  What else can possibly happen to us that could top this?"

"I guess we'll have to keep pedaling to find out," I said.

"And so, we shall," Doug said, smiling.

That's one of the aspects about adventure that cannot be changed. When you come upon a moment, it may blow your mind. It may fascinate you beyond comprehension. You want it to last forever, but in fact, it won't and you must move forward.  You cannot tarry with yesterday.  You learn from it.  You remember it; and then, you thrust yourself into the next moment.

"If the roar of a wave crashes beyond your campsite, you might call that adventure.  When coyotes howl outside your tent--that may be adventure.  While you're sweating like a horse in a climb over a 12,000-foot pass, that's adventure.  When a howling headwind  presses your lips against your teeth, you're facing a mighty adventure.  If you're pushingthrough a howling rainstorm, you're soaked in adventure.  But that's not what makes an adventure. It's your willingness to struggle through it, to present yourself at the doorstep of Nature.  That creates the experience.  No more greater joy can come from life than to live inside the 'moment' of an adventure.  It may be a momentary 'high', a stranger that changes your life, an animal that delights you or frightens you, a struggle where you triumphed, or even failed, yet you braved the challenge.  Those moments present you uncommon experiences that give your life eternal expectation.  That's adventure!" Frosty Wooldridge 

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Bicycling Around the World: Tire Tracks for Your Imagination by Frosty Wooldridge, available on "Amazon or call direct: 1 888 519 5121

Rafting the Rolling Thunder: A Journey Through the Grand Canyon 

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Losing Your Best Friend: Vacancies of the Heart by Frosty Wooldridge, Available on Amazon or 1 888 519 5121

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