Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The New Jersey Devil

At the ripe age of 30, I learned how to drive a manual automobile.
Applause rings in my ears every time I say that to myself.

My good friend Greg Locker had been in Castle Hill for two months when we arrived. He had bought the first cheap car he saw at the backpackers car lot in Christchurch and had lived next to it in his tent for his entire stay. When we rolled in, Greg was more than ready to end his trip abroad and wanted the fastest departure he could manage. So, he gave us his car.
I tried to pay for it on multiple occasions.
"I don't make money exchanges with friends." He replied with an air of: Just take it. Please.
The car is a mid-eighties Toyota Corona. I'd never even heard of it. Maybe it's the Corolla of the rest of the world. Who knows? In any case, it was a durable beater with at least three different paint colors and a license plate that would scare any respectable church goer. This rig was to be mine.
With a hearty thanks I remarked to Greg that I finally had a reason to learn how to drive stick. Before, knowing how to operate a manual car would have been just another trick under my sleeve and so I felt no pressing urge to learn. But now, this was my only way to get from our home base in Christchurch up to the boulders. I simply had to learn or not climb, often.
Knowing that this was the case, I made a trade with Greg: If I cut his hair, he'd teach me to drive a manual transmission.

And so it was. With my left hand on the joy stick and the pedals in their usual place, I looked right before left and shifted my way to a bachelors from the Greg School of Driving. I could now drive myself through the city, and into the mountains. I was a step ahead of Miss Daisy.
How liberating.

My self portrait driving home from Castle Hill. I got stopped not by the cops but by 200 cows walking up the road followed by men on horseback, and dogs nipping at their heels.

It wasn't until I had to park in my friend Christina's driveway that I achieved my Masters. I had to use the parking brake as a catapult lever so that I wouldn't reverse into her house at a 45 degree angle. (I was so nervous.)
The New Jersey Devil is now for sale for $300. A scream'in deal for a sturdy car that Ava still refers to as, "Greg's car." I can't say though, that I'll be sad to see it go.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Home Is Where Your Passport Is

Could Christchurch be home?
When we embarked on this trip we did it in part as a test run for a possible temporary relocation. Being that surfing and rock climbing are soul sports for Kyle and I, respectively, Christchurch was the most likely city in the world that we could imagine being suitable for our family collectively. As we began to roll through town and familiarize ourselves with its sub-neighborhoods, coast line, and downtown, we were immediately taken by three things:

The beach and it's surf,

the Avon River that runs down the middle of the city like a zipper,

and the cities quaint, contemporary attitudes.

There is something about this city that feels like home to me. I grew up primarily in Louisville, KY home of the Kentucky Derby horse race. I love Louisville. It is an affluent and cultural city in an unlikely state. When I tell people I'm from Kentucky they size me up and check to see if I have all my teeth and am wearing shoes. I believe in the warm area of my big red heart that if there were rock in Louisville I would move there. Well, it would have to have surf too of course. When we drove down from Castle Hill into Christchurch we drove through horse country. It even felt like Kentucky: rolling green hills, race horses, tall tree fence lines. There was even a business called Kentuckian Racing. Helloooo!
And that is only the area outside of town!! To get into the city center we drove through one of the nicest public parks I've seen, ever. I wanted to go and lay in the grass and let Ava run through the botanical gardens. But for Kyle, it was the surf that inspired his longing. He's been so inspired that I was finally able to pry him out of the water before sunset to take some photos!!!!

New Brighton Beach is 10 minutes from city center.

Kyle is a lover of nice things, especially nice old buildings. No matter where we are he is the first to point out a slate roof, or beautiful stained glass window. Christchurch has an abundance of cute houses and well maintained old buildings. I think Kyle has mentioned about 7 times how much he loves the slate roof on the cathedral on Cathedral Square.

A beautiful door that Ava discovered on a walk down the Avon one sunny cold day.

I have to mention the library at New Brighton because it's a place I want to visit every day. It has single serving couches with desk tops that face the surf breaks at New Brighton. Ava and I go there to read books and watch daddy surf. And if we need a break from sitting and watching we just walk down the pier that comes out of the library and hover over Kyle as he paddles to catch his next wave. It's brilliant. It makes me want to study in it. It makes me want to study here. Have I mentioned Castle Hill yet?

Monday, May 4, 2009

Flock Hill

If you don't plan, things will still happen. Amazing. We have been staying at the Craigeburn camp ground which is just 10 minutes drive from the boulder fields, less if you are going to Flock. We've met all sorts of characters here at the camp but it wasn't until my friend Justin Wood arrived that we met Derek Thatcher and the strongmen of Castle Hill. We met the boys at the Flock Hill parking and zoomed up to the boulders. It was still early, 9 am maybe, and there was slippery frost covering the ground. People kept disappearing into the tall grass with a yelp and someone would yell, "Boom-agata!" Which to me sounds like a line from a Tribe Called Quest rhyme.

Lady Killer v3

We warmed up on a beautiful slabby, runnel problem and on many others whose names I know not. There is no formal guide for Flock Hill. But that's why we have Derek. There is something to be said however for heading up there without a clue because there are so many boulders, moderate problems, easy obvious warm-ups, and projects to be cleaned so fresh eyes are appreciated here!

Justin working on an FA.

The vibe was buoyant. The guys were sending their long standing projects, cleaning new ones, and sending those too. It was impressive and it set the scene for our trip here.

Pete "The Radness" on Mullet Arete v6

My project Mobeous v8

Even Ava was inspired!

Zac on Vapor Trail

James Morris working a project just before getting the second ascent of Derek Thatcher's Vapor Trail v10.

Captain Contact
Justin's 10th v8 of the day, his first day in Castle Hill.

The sun set behind the mountains and we were still climbing, the flash from Kyle's camera gave us just enough light to see the holds.

We descended the hill as the stars woke up. Sliding into thorny plants and falling over rocks, it would have been very helpful if we had brought our head lamps! We found ourselves running downhill trying to descend the 25 minute trek to flat land before we hit total darkness for the remaining 20 minute walk. When can we go to Flock Hill next!

Castle Hill!!! Finally!

I've been so wrapped up in Castle Hill I all but forgot to update the blog (also our internet connection is patchy at best). My apologies. Let me start from the beginning as best I can...
We were driving in our little red van. Driving, driving, driving. We drove from Napier to Wellington, had a lovely lunch, drove around the beautiful and dense coastal city.

Then we drove onto a ferry that was supposed to only be a four hour tour that would deliver us to the south island. It turned out to be seven hours because the ferry broke down in the middle of the harbor. sweet. We arrived on the south island and headed in the direction of Castle Hill. With perfect weather we were completely entranced by the ocean and it's rocky wonderland of sea life.

Carrie photo

Ava and I hung out at the beach while Kyle surfed. I wish I had photos of him surfing!!!
We camped just off the beach and woke up to a seal about 20 feet away basking in the morning sun. It was beautiful.

Ava has the best bed head complete with dread locks. Every morning.
Then we drove some more, down the coast and headed inland through hilly farmland and up into the mountains. By this time we were all a bit road weary, and I was aching to rock climb. I hadn't done much research on the area. I've learned through years of traveling that plans are best left unmade until you have a realistic idea of what a place is about. So, we looked on the map, saw a peak called Castle Hill and headed in that direction, hoping it was the right area!
As we drove round the twists and turns that lead up the slope my heart was beating faster in anticipation of the first glimpse of rock. I'd been waiting for what seemed like months to reach this place and now we were almost there...

Quantum Hill

The easiest area to get to is Quantum. It is reached easily by all manner of tourist and athlete alike. We ran around our first day like giddy school children. We left the pad in the car and went on a reconiscence mission to find out what this place was about. It's like a candy shop of boulders that attract even the most novice of climbers.

This is Ava's favorite climb and it's actually in the guide book! Ava's first established rock climb.

Because this area is so easily accessible it gets the most traffic making it pretty slippery and glassy. Many of the classic problems you can barely climb because they are so slick. The first day we spent our time on easy climbs that we could do barefoot. Climbers were stopping to ask if we needed to use their pads and we would thank then but decline their offer as the problems we were spending our time on had the most perfect grassy landings, who needed a pad! We would soon find out why.
The climbing in Quantum is really smeary with lots of mantels and slabs and reachy high balls.

Monkey and the Magic Peach (v8), still a goal. Apparently to gain purchase on that runnel you have to knee bar on your hand reach up with your left hand, tilt your head to the left then rock over your foot. Seriously.

Carrie photo...check out the manly beard!

Dominatrix v6 with a "technical knee bar" sit start. Flashed it.


It was sunny but cold and even so we had no idea that it was going to dump snow on us in the middle of the night!

Jason Myer and I having a snow ball fight! That day we left for Christchurch to find a home. A place to live in winter, inside.