RoadDash

2018 August 2
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by barclay

Background


The adventure started when I wanted a roll and pitch indicator for my Jeep.  I couldn’t find one that worked for me.

  • The spring-based ones (like this) are way too springy, they bounce around like crazy when driving offroad, and are too sensitive to acceleration, deceleration, and cornering, even at slow speed.  They provide no useful information.

  • I tried looking for a marine-based one, like the gimbaled compasses that float in a viscous fluid and dampens the springiness of the previously mentioned solution, but no luck.

  • I looked at the TrailDash2, but it’s quite expensive, and it looks like it just gets pitch and roll from the orientation screen, which I knew I could do with some cheap parts.  And, I didn’t want to ECU-swap to get the extra features, which is really what the $500 is all about.

  • Phone-based apps have a variety of problems:

    • I tried a bunch, a they were too easy to accidentally reset the calibration, or automatically re-zero’d the calibration each launch (which makes it useless), and required a large amount of dash space for what is basically displaying two numbers.  I don’t need fancy icons and colors.

    • In addition, if I were to use a phone-based solution, I’d want a whole bunch of extra functionality, e.g., speed, altitude, temperature, etc.  Most modern phones don’t actually have built-in ambient temperature thermometers and barometers (at least, not that I could find in production after ~2014); they rely on the internet for that. I’d prefer something that doesn’t require a data connection, since I frequently don’t have that out in the wilderness.

    • But here’s the real deal killer:  I’d also like something mostly-permanently mounted.  I also don’t want to give up my phone for a clinometer, since it’s usually my mapping app, and that’s usually in and out of it’s cradle on a regular basis which means recalibrating — which means finding a level spot to park — every time I hope out to take pic.  So, this means adding a second phone to the dash.  This presents a problem, though: phones obviously have batteries in them, keeping them on the dash throughout the day, particularly in places like Anza Borrego or Mojave, you run the chance of exploding the lipo battery.  Not good — that almost happened to me back when I had an old phone (running Torque) mounted to my dash. One day I got in the car and it was swollen up like a balloon.

So, I decided to build my own.  This meant that I could add in a few features that I hadn’t seen elsewhere, like storing the minimum and maximum values for a couple things, or having the screen automatically turn on/off on movement.

Sensor Data/Display

  • GPS-based:

    • Speed: mph/kph, press to change

    • Latitude/Longitude: decimal

    • Fix quality: # satellites, xDOP quality

    • Heading (compass direction) and bearing (degrees)

    • Altitude:

      • ft/m, press to change

      • recent min/max, with reset button

  • Temperature

    • F/C, press to change

    • Recent min/max, with reset button

    • Color coded on extreme temperatures

  • Barometric display

    • Textual description

    • Graphical representation (icon)

    • 3h trend window, as per NOAA recommendations, ditto for magnitude (trend) deltas

  • Roll and Pitch

    • Max left/right roll and fwd/back pitch, with reset button

    • Ability to store current offsets to permanent storage (i.e., the roll/pitch offsets should be consistent across reboot)

    • A “steady” indicator (useful for letting the sensor settle before “storing offsets”)

    • Color coded for yellow/orange/red on extreme angles

Prerequisites

This build requires at least:

  • A novice to moderate level of working with arduino programming.  You shouldn’t have to know how to code, but you do need to know how to compile and upload code to an arduino-like board.
  • A soldering station:  soldering iron, solder, flux, wire, etc. A “helping hands” and breadboard will also be useful, but aren’t required if you’re creative/dexterous.

If you’d like to connect the wires the same way I did (everything is socketed so all parts are replaceable), you’ll also need a hot glue gun, or similar, to ensure the makeshift headers stay connected.  Alternatively, you could buy proper headers and crimp and solder your own pins, but I didn’t have the right sizes on hand, so I went the cheap route.

If you’re using my case design, the screw holes are not threaded, so that could benefit from a tap and die set (M3 0.5 pitch), and for installing screws/nuts in hard-to-reach places, a magnetic pickup tool is useful for getting nuts/screws into tight places.

Parts

Item

Qty

Est $ / each

Total

Link

Required

3.5″ Feather TFT

1

$39.95

$39.95

https://www.adafruit.com/product/3651

Teensy 3.2 + headers

1

$19.95

$19.95

https://www.adafruit.com/product/2756

Feather Adaptor

1

$5.95

$5.95

https://www.adafruit.com/product/3200

PJRC Prop Shield

1

$22.50

$22.50

https://www.adafruit.com/product/3085

GPS Breakout

1

$39.95

$39.95

https://www.adafruit.com/product/746

Female Headers

1

$2.95

$2.95

https://www.adafruit.com/product/598

Regular Headers

1

$2.95

$2.95

https://www.adafruit.com/product/2671

Long Headers

1

$3.00

$3.00

https://www.adafruit.com/product/400

Female-to-Female Jumpers, 3″

1

$3.95

$3.95

https://www.adafruit.com/product/794

Half-size Perma-proto

1

$4.50

$4.50

https://www.adafruit.com/product/1609

Required Total

$145.65

Note that there’s a handful of screws, nuts, wire options, etc., you can use, but that’s dependent on how you build your case.  I mostly just used what I had on hand. If you’d like to use the case I generated for my Jeep, it’s orientated around M2 and M3 screws, and printed on a Form 2 printer.  (You may have difficulty printing my model on a standard filament-based 3D printer, due to the overhang geometry.) In addition, the angle of my Jeep’s windshield is approximately 28 degrees from vertical, so unless your rig happens to have the same angle, you’ll probably need to design and build your own case in order for it to tuck back against the window nicely.

I also already had most of the headers, jumpers, and other miscellaneous assembly pieces, which means that links provided are just suggestions.  I can’t necessarily vouch them, but did keep them all from the same vendor to it’s easy to order all at once.

Assembly

If you’re not comfortable soldering, you may want to get a friend to do this for you.  The photos should demonstrate the basic layouts.

A few notes:

  • Note the back side of the permo-proto:  there’s some wires soldered on the underside to bridge the VCC and GND lines to the right pins.

  • Since the GPS breakout is supported on only one side by pins, I added some nylon standoffs between the perma-proto and the board on the other side, to make it more stable.  Nylon is better for the parts that touch the perma-proto, as metal standoffs and screws could bridge some traces on the perma-proto.

  • I drilled out some of the holes to enable a larger M3 sized nylon screw for attaching the whole board to the case.

  • This whole assembly could be made smaller if you wanted to directly attach all the wires, and use a thinner gauge.  But note that the IMU (orientation sensor on the Prop Shield), and GPS to a lesser extent, work best when oriented “flat” as shown.  I.e., make sure the top of the board are “up”; don’t mount them on the side of a case.

  • 28-30 gauge connecting wires will be easier to stuff into a case, since they’re more flexible, but the thicker gauge wires will be easier to create a makeshift cable header out of.

  • The set of connections is such that you end up with a weird multi-headed type of monster, and to enable the screen auto-off/on, you need to solder one of those directly to the back of the TFT.

I also made my “poor man’s headers”:  take the extra-long male header pins, and push the breakoff strip until it’s flush with whichever female headers you’re mating it with.  Plug each of the female jumper wires into the other side of the header strip (you may need to trip the male headers a bit to get the jumper wires to fit flush).  Pull the male header strip from the female headers, and use a hot glue gun to keep everything together.  This won’t keep you from forcefully pulling a wire from the header, but it will keep vibrations from rattling them lose.  Pro-tip:  only hot-glue one side, that side being the side away from the the components that the header will slot into.  If you hot glue both sides, it’s possible you won’t be able to insert the header.  It’s not pretty, but it works:

Code

You need the arduino development studio, as well as the teensy loader application.  After that, just download the code, open in arduino, select the teensy board and correct port, then program.

http://www.redgeek.net/public/RoadDashV2.0.tgz

“Manual”

Most things should be (mostly) self-evident.

For Speed, Altitude, and Temperature, long press to change units from imperial to metric.

For any of the “zero” buttons, long press to zero out the recording minimums/maximums.

To set “level” for the the device, long press the “Calibrate” button.  For best results, come to a complete stop, and wait for the steady (“level’) indicators to appear on the upper left and upper right sides of the roll and pitch, respectively.  The “level” icon is identical to the “steady” indicator pictured in the barometer trend position listed above.  After both the roll and pitch are “steady”, the IMU has settled, and you should long-press “Calibrate”.  You shouldn’t have to calibrate again unless you change the orientation (roll, pitch, or yaw) of where you’ve mounted the device.

Caveat Emptor

If this is going to sit semi-permanently/permanently mounted in your car, you’re going to have heat concerns.  PLA and ABS from home printers will almost certainly deform, I’d stay away from them unless you live in a cold environment.  Even the Shapeway’s “Professional Plastic” deformed on me after a hot day in the car, although that was only 1.5 to 2mm thick.  An attempt at a home-made wooden box (¼” thick ash) cracked under the thermal changes. Form 2’s standard resins appear to be holding up at 3mm widths.

In addition, you may have temporary, or permanent, component failure under high heat.  I know that the GPS portion occasionally gets wonky after sitting in a hot car all day.  So far, though, no permanent failures, but this is why I made everything socketed. In the event of a failure, I’ll replace that part and investigate adjusting the case.  I’m currently re-jiggering the case, so once I’ve completed that, I’ll post the STL for it.

As a final note, the TFT does include a micro SD slot, which could be used for GPS NMEA logging (and is written, but disabled, in the code), because I haven’t debugged it yet.   :/

Alternatives

I’m already working on the next rev, which should be about ~$40 cheaper, support better screen fonts, as well as wi-fi connectivity, auto GPX uploading, better data logging, and a built-in bluetooth credit card skimmer scanner.

New Zealand, 2009-12-10

2010 July 11
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by barclay

The last full day in Christchurch.  We awoke to a fire alarm in the hotel, quickly grabbed the netbooks and camera, and went out for coffee.  We did some shopping for friends and family, and explored some more, although the mood was distinctly less elated than before.  Neither of us wanted to leave New Zealand, much less end our vacation.  With some regret, I started writing down recommendations for back home:  ”Three Boys” (either Pilsner or Wheat) beers from New Zealand, the “Two Brothers” beer from Australia, which is what I had at the Black Pearl in Melbourne, and a band call Korpiklanni.

It seems too soon to be preparing to go home.  We have a quick stopover in Sydney, then back to LAX and the “real world.”

I’m looking forward to the next trip.  Eastern Europe?  Iceland?  Southeast Asia?  Japan?  Belize?

New Zealand, 2009-12-09

2010 July 11
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by barclay

Today is more wandering around Christchurch.  Poplar Lanes, Litchfield Lanes, Sol Square, the Botanical Gardens, and the Wednesday Market on the Cathedral Square.  Lunch is at the Vespa Room — the pizza is good, the Montieth Pilsner isn’t bad, and the music takes me back:  old Cure, Amy Winehouse, and New Order.  (If you’re wondering why we eat at bars so frequently when we eat out, it’s because we end up eating at odd times, and with the exception of bars, restaurants tend to be open for only short spans of time:  breakfast, lunch, and/or dinner, and are closed in between.)  We do some souvenir shopping, but most of the day is spent relaxing and just absorbing the local relaxed flavor.

I do notice, however, a surprising but perhaps not unexpected number of people on crutches.  At least several people per day.  Christchurch!  Crutchchurch!  Christcrutch?  Must be all the “extreme” activities available here.  But no one seems to complain, even the people on crutches.  Oh yeah, personal responsibility again.  Cool.

New Zealand, 2009-12-08

2010 July 11
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by barclay

Since Akaroa is in a volcanic crater, we take the far on a tour around the the rim to check out the scenery.  It’s quite breathtaking, for two reasons:  it’s beautiful, and the road is a narrow two-lane road without guardrails, above cliffs, down which locals drive incredibly fast.  Lanaea was actually on “going over the edge warning” duty.

Back in Christchurch, we drop off the car and take the city bus back into town.  There’s been a lot of travel and activities lately, so plan for a mellow day walking the city.  Downtown Christchurch is actually quite small, and by the time we leave, we’ll have walked just about every avenue and alley there is.  Make sure you stop by Litchfield Lanes and Sol Square for some cool little restaurants, bars, and cafes.

In the evening, we eat at the Bodhi Tree again.  We end up seated at a table with a couple, Luke and David, who give great travel recommendation (everyone here seems to have great recs — with the exception of Oxford on Avon.)  They are emphatic that in Brisbane, we should check out Stradbroke Island, for at least 3 days, and stay and Pt Lookup.  They say it’s still relatively undiscovered, but should get there quick.  Dinner is delightful, conversation good, and the day mellow.  It gives me a chance to reflect on quirks and differences between the US and Australia and New Zealand together.

One of the first things to notice is that there’s a distinct lack of presence of police and police cars.  It was several days before I even saw and officer, much less a police vehicle, and could probably count on one hand the total number..  And as mentioned before, there’s a distinct penchant for El Camino’s over pickup trucks.  In New Zealand, there’s also a prevalence of extremely tall (20+ feet) square hedges.  Oh, and 1414 AM is an awesome radio station, but that’s not a difference or oddity.  It’s just cool.

New Zealand, 2009-12-07

2010 July 11
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by barclay

I’m up at 4 AM to drop Nat and Jordan off at the airport.  For some reason, I’ve been waking up earlier and earlier despite being on vacation.  I think I know I’m going to miss New Zealand, and want to soak up as much as I can.  Despite that, I know we’re doing to be driving a bit again, so I head back to the hotels for a few more hours sleep.

Nae overlooking Sumner

Lanaea and I check out of the hotel and drive off toward Sumner and a beach called Taylor’s Mistake that Tamara had recommended.  We’re planning on a much more mellow day after yesterday, mostly just exploring.  In Sumner, we climb about Cave Rock (a small rock, but again, you can go underneath it in low tide and splash about the water.)  After a breakfast at a local cafe that could very be beachside in Pacific or Hermosa Beach, we head over the hill to Taylor’s Mistake.  It’s a small semi-secluded beach.  There’s dogs running freely and it’s next to empty.  Near the end of the beach, we run into a Welsh couple (Phil and Sandy) who visited New Zealand once 20 years ago, and when they came back, they came back for good.  They now live here permanently and run 4×4 tours across the South Island.  And like any good Welshman, he has a ton of stories, never stops telling them, and uses the word “luxury” as if he were auditioning for Montys Python’s “Four Welshman” skit.  They also had good advice for Akaroa, where we’d be staying the night tonight.

Cave Rock

We eventually take up our driving again at a mellow pace, enjoying the scenery.  We’re headed for Akaroa now, sort of a French-style outpost sitting at the bottom of a volcanic crater that is now a bay.  We check into a hostel called “Ches La Mer” that is right out of classic Euro-backpacker lore. Essentially a converted house, filled mostly with a younger, philosophically oriented crowd, and a lovely well-tended backyard with tables, grills, and a fountain.  On Phil’s advice, we head down to get some of “the best fush and chups in New Zealand.”  I can’t argue with him; definitely the best fish and chips I’ve ever had.

Taylor's Mistake

We pick up some beer and snacks on the way back to the hostel and find a loose gathering in the backyard.  Everyone is good natured and social, although a bit more mature than the kids in Bondi Beach.  Philosophy and travel are consistent topics.  There’s Ross from D.C., Josh from Devon, Seth from Wisconsin (the last two being sailors), Teodora from Romania by way of Germany and London, as well as some others I can’t recall.

Sumner from AboveOverlooking Bromley and New Brighton South

Teodora was a bit older than the rest, although younger than myself, and had worked from Merrill Lynch in London, and was laid off during downsizing.  She decided to travel for a few months, returned to London and realized “there’s nothing for me here,” so took off to travel again.  That was nine months previous.  She has no plans on stopping, although when she talked of home in Transylvania, you could tell she missed it.  When we mentioned Bucharest was on our list, she heartily recommended staying there only a short time, then getting out of it as soon as possible and hitting the countryside.  Sounds good to me.

Hilltop

Ross was the most philosophical one of the crowd.  Extremely nice, engaged in the world, searching and seeking.  It reminded me of how youth finds it impossible to see youth; how much that is new is actually only new to you — although I suppose that’s definition of “new” in a non-dualistic sense.  We chatted for a bit, but I think I inadvertently went over their his and the others’ head for a bit — not because I’m smarter than them, but because I’d already ready most of the tracts, essays, and philosophy books that they still had on their to-read lists.  When you start talking about the implications of unprovably-true or un-disprovably-false classifications from meta-systems anologies of Godel’s number theory to the finite amount of matter in the world, and how this applies the including the reader’s own meta-narrative in Zen and the Art of Motorcylce Maintenance which actually meshes with Pragmatist ethics despite the apparent differences, and that such classifications could actually describe the “lack of adequate proof” aspect of apparent but incorrect assertion of Pragmatist moral relativity … well, I had fun, and Ross got the title of a couple new books to read.  Hopefully I didn’t sound like too much of an ass, but I still loves me some philosophy talks over beer.

Akaroa Bay

On the lighter side, there was a German girl there would had never seen a goose.  Have you ever tried to describe a goose to someone that’s never seen one?  Harder than it would first appear.  My best answer:  ”a cross between a duck and a giraffe.”  I don’t think that helped to clear things up.  Oh, and her comment to Seth:  ”People must spit in your face all the time.”  Only after everyone stopped laughing was she able to state that it’s because “Seth” is so difficult to pronounce for Germans.

Akaroa

New Zealand, 2009-12-06

2010 July 11
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by barclay

I awoke before anyone else, early, around  5 AM or so, and decided to see what New Zealand sunrises looked like.  There was just the slightest suggestion that dawn was coming as I wandered about the small town of Franz Josef.  As the sky gradually lightened, invisible birds, and presumably other animals, began their morning symphony, quickly expanding from a few simple chirps to calls and shrieks I’ve never even heard recorded on a soundtrack before.  It was the auditory equivalent of seeing a parrot for the first time, when one has only seen a dove.

I wandered around town until dawn broke and the calls began to quiet.  It is still one of the most ethereal and memorable experiences of the trip for me.

Puke Pub?

The rest of the group is up shortly thereafter, as our plan is to drive back to Christchurch that day, and see if we have time to climb Cave Stream and do a ropes course before the day is out.  Cave Stream is as it sounds:  a 1km or so hike inside a cave with a stream.  It’s pitch black and slow going, apparently.  And, as we found out the day before from a local, much more dangerous than it appears.  There’s no gates, locks, supervisions, waivers, etc — just a sign post warning you that it’s dangerous.  As in, several people have died doing it within the last year.  (This is one thing I love about New Zealand:  you are responsible for your own stupidity.)  The locals inform us it’s not difficult, but that it’s not just a walk through a cave: you’re bouldering up through water that’s between waist and neck deep depending on snowmelt, and the water is consistently quite cold.  We agree we’ll at least check out the first part of it on the way back, even though we don’t have the gear for it.  Perhaps we can get a little cave time in before it gets deep.

Otira

It’s a quiet ride on the way back; most of the car is asleep, and rain starts to spatter the windshield.  The roads are slippery and winding.  The scenery is blunted from the grayness of the clouds.  The wisps and fingers of clouds begin to envelop us we rise into the mountains; we begin to weave in and out fog banks.  At Otira, I pull over for some photos.

Otira

Once we get on the other side of Arthur’s Pass and begin to downhill grade, the car is beginning to wake up.  We pull off at Cave Stream and hike down to one of the openings.  About 10 feet inside the cave, the path drops about 6-8 feet down through a rushing, albeit small, waterfall.  The water is quite chilly, and we definitely don’t have the gear for this.  We fool around, exploring and taking photos, getting excited for the day.  It’s still relatively early, and we’re halfway back to Christchurch.  We trailrun back up the hill and down to the other end of the cave, but we can’t even see the entrance.  We’d have to creek slosh for a ways just to get there.  Sadly, we abandon Cave Stream and haul ass to Christchurch.  I take to opportunity to relinquish the driver’s seat and pass out for an hour.

Cave StreamCave Stream

We arrive in the suburbs of Christchurch around 1 PM; I’m exciting by this because I’ve recharged my batteries, and there’s a ropes course Natalie had found that closes at 5 PM and is somewhere just northwest of the city.  Normally, we’d have no problem going the remaining distance in an hour, but that’s before we realized that there are apparently no urban planners in the city.  Street names changes every couple of blocks, seemingly arbitrarily.  And not because you have transitioned between districts or suburbs (that we could tell).  Without exaggerating:  we would be on a street for three, perhaps five block, before we’d realize that it had changed names, and realized that the next turn we were looking for may or may not be called what the map claimed, since the map didn’t list every (or even most) name changes along the line designating the street.  Seriously?

With some luck and a bit of backtracking, we make it to “Adrenaline Forest” a bit after 2 PM.  I run up to check the hours, and they say we still have time even though we’re after their official “last start” time:  most people take 2-3 hours to get through all the courses if they’re good, 4 hours if they’ve never worked on ropes before.  Jordan, Nat, and I drop the $35 NZ each (about $27 US!), while Nae graciously offers to take photos of us.  Once again I was impressed with the culture of personal responsibility in NZ:  we didn’t have to sign a waiver, the training was quick and to the point (“here’s how to check your harness,” “always have at least one carabiner clipped at any given time”, etc), after which they let us have our run of the park. They don’t coddle us, guide us, or give advice unless asked.  Awesome.

Adrenaline Forest

We finish all six courses in just over 2 hours; the sixth is by far the coolest.  You end up about 20m (65 ft) in the trees, which is high enough that the platforms and ropes sway.  My arms we’re definitely burnt after were finished — both from exercise and a bit of rope burn.

Adrenaline ForestAdrenaline Forest

It’s about this time I realize that all I’ve had to eat all day is an energy bar, and that I’m not the only on that’s hungry.  We’re staying at Hotel So, a JetBlue of hospitality:  small, nicer and cheaper than a hostel, but every little thing costs extra.  Want your room cleaned, sheets changed, or a fresh towel?  All that’s extra.  Since we had our own bathroom, though, we could do laundry at our leisure and ended up saving money.

Through the course of the day, we’d been asking locals for recommendations for dinner that night.  Several suggested “Oxford on Avon,” which sounded like a nice splurge for our last group dinner.  It turns out that “Oxford on Avon,” is a buffet, and a horrible one at that.  Cold food, tasted horrible, and was way too expensive.  So bad, in fact, we left our plates there and asked for our money back.  I’ve never done that before (thankfully, Nat did it for us.)

Someone, I think Nae, consulted a guidebook and found a relatively cheap and highly recommended Burmese place called the “Bodhi Tree.”  It took a bit of wandering to find (unsurprisingly, we had to ask for directions, and the girl working a local clothing store knew “Myanmar” but not “Burma” — am I that old?)  This turned out to be absolutely incredible:  small but packed, which extremely friendly servers with great recommendations, and the chef wandering about and saying hello.  I’ve been looking for solid Burmese food ever since.  If you make it there, try the Tea Party, the Blue Beans, the Mushrooms, and the beef dishes.  Fantastic!  In fact, so good, we would return again later in the trip — the only restaurant on the trip good enough to visit twice.

We finished with drinks across the street at Cafe Valentino and chatted with Tamara the Canadian bartender.  She had great recommendations for food, some good local belgian-style micro-brews, as well as places to visit.  As well as just being a damn cool person that filled us in on her perspective of of living in New Zealand as a non-native.  A drink or two later, moving toward the hotel, we stop by Bourbon St to say hello to Matt.  Ken from McMurdy is there again, completely hammered, so much so that he doesn’t remember us at all.  After ordering another drink, Matt asks “have you checked your bank account lately?”  Definitely not good when your bartending is asking you that.

Exhausted and full, we retire for the night.  It already seems like the next day.

New Zealand, 2009-12-05

2010 July 6
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by barclay

The main event today was a glacier hike.  Actually, a heli-hike, since we wanted to get farther up on the glacier than we could by ice climbing in a single day.  After a short safety into, we all jumped into the helicopter than they circled us up to a couple kilometers up the Franz Josef glacier.  The hiking wasn’t strenuous, but was certainly dangerous, as the English woman who slide 20 feet down a crevasse into an icy pool of water could tell you.  I was impressed with the reaction of everyone on the trip, though:  without a speaking a word, we quickly formed a human chain and pulled her, shivering, out of the clef.  Staying true to her English roots, the first thing she did was apologize about being “too much of a trouble.”  It gave us all a laugh.  Despite our guides self-deprecating introduction (“Just a disclaimer:  I have no mountaneering experience.” “How’d you get this job?” “Like any good Kiwi, I bullshit well.”), he was actually quite a good guide, could spot terrain well, and had received extensive training.

After a couple hours of tooling around serac fields, ice tunnels, and blue ice deposits, the weather turned inclement and we had to be flown back down to the base.  We were all jubilant from the activity and scenery of the day, and settled down to soaking in some glacial-water hot pools, monopoloy, and beers with cheese and crackers.

New Zealand, 2009-12-04

2010 July 6
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by barclay

Friday is a day of driving.  We trying to make it across and down the South Island to Franz Josef, 380km away through some winding mountain roads.  Shortly after exiting the Christchurch suburbs, we’re struck by the scenery.  It’s positively gorgeous, and as the trip evolves, continually changing.

Along the way we stop at some interesting outcroppings of rock, notice a trailhead, and scramble up the hill for some light hiking.  We find out later this location, Castle Hill, was one of the locations for Lord of the Rings filming.  I can understand why.

Castle Hill

Castle HillCastle HillCastle Hill

Just after Castle Hill we pass Cave Stream, and we make a note of it to ask some locals about it.  Perhaps we can hit it on the way back, but we also want to make sure we hit the Devil’s Punchbowl hike in Arthur’s Pass.  It’s a short hike, just a few kilometers from where we started, and worth it.

Devil's Punchbowl

Once we hit Jacksons — a town consisting of a bar/restaurant, near as we could tell — the terrain started flattening out.  We each had some sort of meat pie, which would slowly becomes a favorite treat of ours, relaxed for a few, then hit the road again since our little four-banger wasn’t exactly a speed demon and we heard it gets slow-going further down the road due to sharp turns, narrow roads, and single-lane bridges.

West Coast South Island

I feel awkward trying to describe in words the beauty of that initial jaunt across the South Island.  I think the accompanying pictures, although they pale in comparison to the personal experience, will do far better than I ever could.  The only part which doesn’t deserve a photo is the rambunctious group of students at the Franz Josef YHA that got so drunk some of them threw up all over there rooms and the bathrooms.  Yuck.  But, we weren’t in New Zealand to hang out indoors.

West Coast South Island

New Zealand, 2009-12-03

2010 July 6
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by barclay

We shuttle over to the airport in the morning, heading out of Australia and over to New Zealand.  The security screenings are uneventful and reasonable — you can wear your shoes.

I fall asleep on the plane with my mouth open, and Lanaea nudges me telling me I’m “eating air.”  In my stupor, I inform her that “it’s delicious.”  Such are the things that I say when half-asleep that makes here want to start a website called “stuffmyboyfriendssayswhileasleep.com”.

It’s a bit chillier in Christchurch than Melbourne, but not overly so.  We pick up our rental car, a Nissan Sunny that beeps when you reverse, and whose exterior betrays the 8K odometer reading.  I think it rolled over.

The hostel isn’t too hard to find, and we drop off our bags in most spartan of hostels we’ve seen yet.  The walls are thin, footsteps down the hallways sound like sumo on the ceiling, and there is nothing in the room save a rickety double bed — no stool, or nightstand, or trashcan, or coat hook — and strangely enough, a framed photo of a flower on the wall that looks as if it just escaped the 1970s.

It’s an odd time of day, early afternoon on a Thursday in a town that’s not overly large, and notice that most of the restaurants are closed for the period between lunch and dinner.  We end up the only customers in a Mexican joint, of all places, and settle into our first New Zealand meal of nachos.  Not what we expected, but the emptiness of the place imparted a somewhat ethereal feel to the start of our new country.

Shortly afterward we run into Nat and Jordan wandering around downtown Christchurch, and Jordan and I opt to have some “guy time” at a pub while the girls window shop.  We end up and Bourbon Street, where once again we were the only patrons.  The bartender, Matt, is friendly, easygoing, and funny, and gets a kick out of us referring to Speight’s Ale as “Pride of the South,” as the banner of the tap proclaims.  As the night progresses, the girls meet up with us at the bar and characters upon characters start collecting at the bar.

There’s the English Chancellor and his wife who won’t tell us their names for security purposes, but regale us with travel tales of Iceland (highly recommended) and Machu Picchu (says it’s too touristy now), among other locations.  There Warrick from Gore, New Zealand, a teacher up on vacation, relating how the truly south of the South Island live.  There’s a 23 year old kid and his girlfriend, the former of which is positively blasted and trying to convince use he’s 40.  And Ken, a master carpenter from Denver who’s just got back from a stint at the McMurdo station in Antarctica — who claims that the rumors of rampant sexual activities among the denizens, to pass the lonely cold months, are true.

The drinking goes late, all trading stories and recommendations, and on the way out we meet an extremely friendly punk that builds his own custom cycles.  Big, behemoths of cycles, using engines from trucks.  He offerred us a ride on his 302ci custom, but somehow, conversation derailed, and we ended up walking back to the hostel.

302ci custom

302ci Christchurch Custom

Australia, 2009-12-02

2010 July 6
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by barclay

Today was a mellow day.  Mostly wandering Gertude and Smith streets in Fitzroy and Collingwood, drinking flat whites and window shopping.  I was a bit surprised when we stopped in a store named “Release the Hounds” and thought I heard Mu-ziq playing on the radio.  Turns out it was a folktronica band named “Múm”.  Since there were at least two words in that previous sentence that were new to me, I chatted with the salesman for a while, trading music recs.  (For those of you who are curious, his Múm recommendations were for “Yesterday was Dramatic — Today is OK” and “Finally we are No One”.)  The hipness of Melbourne definitely scored some points with me on that one.

Through the wanderings of the day, we did notice that there appears to be a bit of “white guilt” regarding the indigenous peoples.  Locals would completely ignore the the white panhandlers, refusing to even to make eye contact, but when an indigenous panhandler would come along, the very same people would stand, shake his hand heartily, say a blessing or two, and hand over fivers.  This wasn’t an isolated instance, either, we saw it multiple times between multiple individuals.  No judgements here, just an observation.  I know the historical treatment of indigenous Australians is as touchy as the United States’ treatment of African and Native Americans (and just about any other group depending on the point in history you wish to analyze), but these interactions we saw I’ve never even come close to witnessing the the states.  I found it quite fascinating on sociological and interpersonal levels.

After another lunch of cheese, crackers, and hummus, we set out with a goal to find Lanaea and affordable opal.  We hit just about every place that sold opals in the Melbourne CBD, most at least twice, and finally ended up back at the first one we’d walked into the day before.  And found the perfect one there.  Of course, if we’d gotten it straight off, we might always wonder if there was a better one a block away, but since we’d been everywhere, it ended up being molded by experience into “perfect.”  Funny how that works out.

Melbourne itself is kind of a funny place, come to think about it.  There’s major development all over; the CBD is a panorama of cranes.  But it’s classy, urban, and hipster counter-culture all the same, with pan-European cuisine and architecture and a deference to the local history and culture.  It’s in a country with a reputation for beer and meat in quantity, yet the prices for such things are high, the portions are small, and it’s not the best thing by far that you can eat in Melbourne.  Which is, in a way, why I fell in love with Melbourne.