During the boreal winter of 2010-11, I was working in New Zealand and couldn’t quite afford to make it home for Christmas. To take my mind off the missed holidays, I bought an old American touring bike on Trade Me – a Kiwi amalgamation of Ebay and Craigslist – for a few hundred dollars from a bloke in Woolston. I left Christchurch on sheep-flanked backroads, my boots wrapped in old gaiters and bungied to a crushed down backpack on the rear rack. Meet Optimus Climb: it transforms from bicycle touring to full-on backpacking in 3 minutes flat. No assembly required. Thus equipped, having never bike toured before, I made my way across the South Island by foot and wheel.
The first adventure went well. From the desolate and windblasted Mackenzie Country, Optimus charged past the turquoise waters of Lake Tekapo and up the access road to Mt. Cook Village. Here, Aoraki/ Mt. Cook (12,300ft) looms over the valley and glaciers hang from the higer slopes and pour melt water off seventy degree slopes in an endless cycle. Alone on the trail due to heavy winds and downpouring rain, I climbed 3000 feet up to the rock and ice of the Mueller Range and checked in at the alpine hut in the shadow of Mt. Olivier. This is a day route- nothing to be proud of really, but I was walking in the footsteps of the Great One, and I knew it. Sir Edmund Hillary, Conqueror of Everest, had climbed Olivier in the 1930’s- it was his first peak. I was in one of the world’s temples of mountaineering, and alone on the rain and wind blasted ridge, I felt it.
“The wind was hurtling up and over the tussock choked pass, each gust stealing away the myriad ‘konnichiwa’s from smiling, elderly tourists. The sweat had dried, etching salty Rorschach designs all across my shirt; below, the road twisted down the way I had come- steep enough to make me glad it was a memory. Rising from my perch, I grinned at the busload of Japanese tourists invading my triumphant siesta, giving a thumbs-up before getting back in the saddle for the descent towards Tarras.”
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