<b>NEW ZEALAND CALLING: </b>THE SOUTHERN ALPS IN A NEW LIGHT

NEW ZEALAND CALLING: THE SOUTHERN ALPS IN A NEW LIGHT

I had left New Zealand with the bitter taste of defeat in my mouth. Eleven months spent living in the Southern Alps, and I didn’t climb a single objective route.
05-17-2019
Adventure

Article

Chris Brinlee Jr
#REVITRIDER

Chris Brinlee, Jr. is a storyteller. Stories, however, are not best-told from inside the walls of a cubicle, so in August 2014, Chris left his behind—quitting his fancy advertising art director job to go experience something more. Since then, Chris’s adventures have led him around the globe—he’s paddled remote fjords in Eastern Greenland, ridden motorcycles through Vietnam, sailed with a crew to Antarctica, and climbed 6,000m peaks in Nepal.

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Chris Brinlee Jr.

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Mountains

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DISAPPOINTMENT IN THE MOUNTAINS

Perhaps my ambitions were too great. Perhaps I had an overly optimistic expectation of what weather and conditions would dictate in the great mountains. Either way, what I had planned to be a year spent graduating my degree of alpinism to a higher level nearly turned me away from the life-sport entirely.

By the end of the season, I was ready to leave New Zealand - but there was one thing that would be drawing me back; and sooner than one might expect.

My experience on the South Island had been characterized by traditional mountaineering approaches. Essentially, not using a helicopter, which instead required carrying far too much gear, for far too long, through terrain that was far too rugged due to its steepness and geography. Terrain which was also affected by constant landslides and erosion. Those experiences had all but eliminated my desire to go deep into the Alps.

That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy viewing them as a painting though. The mountainscapes in New Zealand are incredibly pretty to look at, as long as you don’t have to venture too close on foot while laden with a heavy pack.

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Africa Twins

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REDEMPTION IN THE SOUTHERN ALPS

It seemed like a week-long, 1,600km motorcycle tour circumnavigating the Southern Alps would be the perfect opportunity to gain an entirely new perspective of the place that I had simultaneous come to love and yet so deeply loathe. Two months after my partner, Priya, and I had returned to the States, we arrived back in Christchurch with our friend Gunner Wright in tow.

Reminiscing about my time spent “not climbing in New Zealand,” the biggest takeaway I gained was a rediscovery of “The Power of the Pivot.” Things don’t always go according to plan; there’s nothing that we can do to change that. However, we can take control of any situation by adjusting our reactions, both with regard to state-of-mind, and plan-of-action.

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REV'IT! and Nexx Outfit

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REMEMBER TO LET GO

Immediately upon our arrival, I got a chance to practice. The adventure bikes that we had ordered for our gravel road ride were fifty pounds heavier than expected and equipped with street tires. Damn.

Fortunately, my Sand 3 kit and helmet made it in on our flight with no luggage lost; nothing broken. For that night, we had quaint accommodations lined up at Eco Villa, which enabled me to begin developing a new, on-the-fly itinerary.

My initially proposed endeavor into scenic triple valleys in the heart of the Alps was out; the rugged path leading there would be too much for us to handle. The bikes that we would be riding, 2019 Honda Africa Twin Adventure Sports were manageable enough on the road, but the 550-plus-pound versions of the reintroduced classic Paris-Dakar rally champ were much less suited for actual adventure than their names overtly imply. Details accentuated by the fact that I weigh 140 pounds myself and stand five-foot-six.

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New Zealand Alps 1
New Zealand Alps 2
New Zealand Alps 3
New Zealand Alps 4

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SHIFTING ON THE FLY

It seemed that an adventure of a different sort would be shaping up. Nisha, our host at Eco Villa suggested that we reach out to the proprietors of Valley Views Glamping, located about five hours south of Christchurch, to see if any last minute accommodations were available for the next day.

A response was waiting in my inbox by breakfast; it seemed that our pivot was going to work out okay. We’d focus our route on scenic highways, seeking out sustainable accommodation as a way to be more conscious of our footprint instead.

After a meal punctuated by veggies and greens plucked from the garden - along with some homemade plant-based milks - it was time to hit the road. For the first few hours of country highway, we were riding in the blazing sun; liners removed and all of the vents open on my jacket and trousers. I had no problems staying cool.

Not too long after leaving the city behind, we rode over a gorgeous turquoise river and stopped to take in the sights. Then, we had a chance to practice another lesson that, for the past 11 months, had continually been bashed over my head: “Acceptance of Circumstance is the key to any adventure in New Zealand.”

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Gravel Roads

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RAIN, RAIN GO AWAY

Exactly as the forecast had predicted, by late-afternoon the sky turned grey. It fell out shortly after we got back on the road. Having anticipated this rapid change, I had zipped my waterproof liners back in at the previous stop.

I learned to ride street bikes in LA during the four years of California’s drought; short of a couple rainy rides during a month-long stint through Vietnam on a 110cc “Honda” Win, I had relatively little experience riding in any type of precipitation. Adding to this excitement, New Zealand doesn’t do “half-way.” It poured.

One day in, we’d already had polar opposite conditions to test us. Even with two hours of blasting through the pouring rain, not a single drop got through my suit - a reminder of how great it feels when good gear works.

Despite our initial desire to ride the road less-traveled, our bikes were incredibly well-suited for highway use, even in the rain. A high windscreen took the brunt, their extra-large tanks meant that we hardly had to think of fuel and could just focus on putting blissful miles down.

As we turned off the highway and onto a gravel road, the clouds broke and light shone through just as we arrived at Valley Views. It had been a slow-paced 400 km day and we were grateful to have a break from riding. At the main cabin, hosts Patrick and Amber warmly greeted us before escorting each of us to our respective rooms. We had enough time to drop our bags and change before joining them for a communal dining experience with the other guests.

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Valley Views Glamping 1

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Valley Views Glamping 3

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SILVER LININGS

As I stepped back outside, a rainbow cast itself over our geodesic dome - flickering in and out, depending on the cloud cover and sunlight. Shortly after, more clouds rolled in and it started snowing. It was the perfect reminder that things in life rarely go according to plan, but if you remain open and stay nimble, almost anything can be adapted on the fly.

It seemed that no matter what experience that I envisioned in New Zealand, whether climbing or motorcycling, I was destined to adapt. This time around, however, I was much quicker to embrace it; the reward was instant, too. That insight turned out to be the key for our motorcycle tour. Had I learned that lesson earlier, my eleven months spent living there probably wouldn’t have been so abrasive.

Perhaps distance was needed from the island country to allow for a new perspective. While I had been anxious to move away, as each mile unfolded, I became more grateful that I had the opportunity to return so quickly and experience New Zealand in a totally new and endearing way.

Now, I can’t wait to go back for more, but next time, I’ll be finding an enduro bike. I’ve got that itch to go deep. Again.

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Night

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