Leaving home, going home

We’ve been home from New Zealand for a month. It has been great seeing everyone in the US that we missed during our year away from the northern hemisphere. More than I expected we’ve each caught ourselves calling New Zealand home; turns out we were there long enough for it to start feeling like our home. Only as the summer began and our baby Zoe was born did Oamaru truly start to feel like home. And then we were headed back. Luckily we got to show many visitors from the US our little town in New Zealand which makes it feel more real now that it is so far away from our day to day lives.

We are living in Virginia with Mom and Dad as we look in to jobs and areas we would like to live. I’ve been wondering if I’ll really be able to leave the West Coast but after a short visit to Western North Carolina I can imagine living somewhere in the East. Asheville was very happening, West Asheville had plenty of similarities with our old neighborhood in Southeast Portland. I was most excited by the little town of Brevard, thirty minutes south of Asheville. It is right on the doorstep of Pisgah National Forest with endless trail running and mountain biking possibilities, not to mention rock climbing and fly fishing. Also it has a nice vibrant feel about it for a small town with a walkable downtown, art galleries, great new library and what looks like an amazing grocery store for any size town, Food Matters. We didn’t even get to check out the couple of local breweries that are in Brevard.

For the first time since returning from New Zealand I feel like we are on the path towards finding a new place to call home. I think we were very lucky to land in Oamaru after choosing a job and a place to live we had never visited before, in a country it turns out we really knew very little about.

Doesn't get any better

Running the Routeburn and Greenstone tracks

Routeburn – Greenstone tracks circuit at EveryTrail

For many months now I’ve been training for a big mountain run. Jean’s sister Meg has been training back in the US also and we’ve encouraged each other by following each others’ runs on Strava. We initially tried to register for the Kepler Challenge but despite getting on the morning registration opened neither of us secured a spot. So I came up with an alternate route of a similar distance and the training commenced.

8C348B2F-86D7-46C9-9143-13136B6DEBBFAs you can see I started marking off the plan diligently at first but then got in to the swing of things and would just glance at it each week. I was pretty good at sticking to our training plan, the only big miss being my longest training run which fell on the weekend I became a father! So I skipped that and just started the taper a little early. I’ve done some big runs before but never trained as diligently and it really did help.

Once Meg arrived in New Zealand we were getting pretty excited for the big day. But as we enjoyed near perfect weather in Queenstown the forecast was getting worse and worse for our Saturday run in the mountains. Up to the day before, the forecast for Harris Saddle on the Routeburn was 70 km/h winds and -7 Celsius wind chill. We didn’t have a lot of flexibility for our date and we decided that running would keep us warm and the plethora of huts and trampers would be a decent backup plan if conditions got truly awful.

As you can see from the photos we started in sunshine and the weather never got nearly as bad as predicted. It was rainy at times and a little cold but actually great temps for running. If we stopped we got cold, so we didn’t stop much! The tracks are extremely well marked and formed making for excellent running. A few sections of the Routeburn we ran in to large groups of trampers that occasionally slowed us down as we navigated past each other. Most people were really supportive and encouraging, often a bit surprised to see us running by in shorts. One non-native English speaker told us “I want to fly as you” which I thought was especially nice. And a French lady cried as she struggled with her heavy pack, “C’est pas juste!”. Only one couple stood out as a little affronted that we would choose to run this route with comments like “Why the hurry?” “Did you forget your packs?”. By the time we reached Howden Hut we welcomed the increased solitude of the Greenstone track where we only saw a couple other people. And it remained just as gorgeous. Unfortunately we didn’t take any photos in that section as we just focused on keeping going and the hourly snack breaks we allowed ourselves. Jean made us each an amazing pastrami sandwich that I can’t imagine making it around the circuit without.

Are we there yet?

Are we there yet?

I also modified the lock screen of my phone with this quick breakdown of the run in to manageable segments so we had a sense we were getting somewhere. It was more helpful than I imagined except I think the Mackenzie H. – Howden H. segment was not downhill as I indicated with my slash but more up and down.

I wish we had a chance to run a few more of the Great Walks of New Zealand, like the Kepler. Unlike most of the tracks around the island the Great Walks are extremely well maintained and runnable. A lot of the rest of them are more “routes” with poles indicating the way you should travel and something resembling a deer trail to follow. I think training on these rougher tracks made the actual run on a broad trail a lot easier.

Jean, baby Zoë, and Trish were an excellent support crew, even driving our ’92 Ford Falcon through three fords on the road to our pickup to make sure we didn’t have to run/walk out 10 more kilometers at the end of it. And Trish got us beers and carrot cake!




Jean and I took our last vacation before becoming parents to Vanuatu, a place that before our trip was only a vaguely familiar word. It is a Pacific Island nation, known as New Hebrides before independence, northeast of Australia and almost due north from here in Oamaru, enough to have a much warmer climate. We stayed at a small resort outside the capital Port Vila. We took it pretty easy and did not see too much of the country which includes many islands. The food was very good with plenty of fresh fruit and fish, which we also saw at the market one day we went in to Port Vila. We took a kayak out in the lagoon most days and paddled out to a deserted island for some exploring and snorkeling.

Back in Oamaru it is spring and lambing season. On my run yesterday so many little lambs were sunning in the grass. It’s nice to be coming through winter.

Riding along the Clackamas River

Portland to Smith Rock State Park

PDX to Smith Rock State Park at EveryTrail

Last summer we took off from Portland the day after Jean finished residency and started on a bicycle tour with a few stops for rock climbing at Smith Rock near Bend, Oregon and City of Rocks in Idaho. I blogged about it here at the time but recently I pieced together the GPS tracks I’d recorded and added some photos from the trip to create the Everytrail map above. This is the first section of four. Some of the most beautiful riding of the trip was in the first couple of days and we had great company with Jason and Elvira, hope we get to tour with them again.

Enjoying the escape from winter

Escape to Sydney

Jean and I just returned from our first trip out of the country since arriving in New Zealand in December. Even though it is technically also winter in Sydney we enjoyed a real respite from the cold, wind, and brief snow we’ve seen here. It was near 20 Celsius almost everyday with sunny skies and a light breeze. Downright hot at the beach. Five nights in Sydney and a one night trip up to Canberra to visit family and take in a footy match.