Because I promised I would write this up when I found time, and was rather annoyed to find out that I hadn’t already done so, here you go. It’s a tale as old as time: three men set out on an adventure they are not prepared for and suffer in a hilarious manner. Really, since this was during our time in New Zealand after a year at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, I kinda feel like we were paying homage to the early Antarctic explorers and their misadventures.
TL;DR Version: You should absolutely bike the Otago Rail Trail. It’s gorgeous and is the best way to enjoy the Hills of Rohan and the Walls of Moria. DO NOT DO WHAT WE DID.
This story begins in the bar at New Zealand’s Scott Base, which is on the other side of the hill from McMurdo. I had gotten marooned in McMurdo for a bit waiting for my ship to come in with a large dewar of liquid helium, and I wasn’t particularly welcomed to help the science tech assigned to McMurdo, I kind of drifted to helping the New Zealand Antarctic Program a bit. The atmospheric scientist who was there, Becs, had two important suggestions for me when I got back to New Zealand:
- That I should make the acquaintance of KAOS (Killing As Organized Sport) when I got back to Christchurch. That they were my people and I should go unto them. The current state of their page confirms that still.
- The Otago Rail Trail had just opened up, it was awesome, and a great way to see New Zealand from the sea to Queenstown, AKA the Lake Tahoe of New Zealand. For the record the website for the Otago Rail Trail is much more detailed now than it was 16 years ago, when it was pretty much “This is a map with few details and some towns. Here ya go.”
Over the subsequent months during the Long Night, sitting at the bar of Club 90 South, one of the frequent topics of conversation was what vacation plans you were making for when you finally got off the Ice. Many people were planning round the world trips that would land them right back in Christchurch in time to start their next winter at Pole. Tony, Mark and I didn’t have globe trotting plans, but there were going to be some good times in New Zealand. We looked at the map (remember: less detailed than the current one), saw that there were towns at fairly regular intervals, making this a very nice backpacking/pub crawl from Middlemarch on the coast to Queenstown.
…at least, that’s what it looked like on the map with Yahoo Maps cross-referencing (Google Maps was still two years in the future). Because it was a NZ Department of Conservation brochure, much like a US National Park Service map, it had highlights. It certainly didn’t have all the towns that Yahoo Maps popped up on the way along the trail.
And so after our return to Christchurch and a week of thawing out, we picked up a rental car, drove down the Pacific coast to Dunedin and then took the turn up to Middlemarch, the coastal terminus of the Otago Rail Trail. Middlemarch wasn’t and still isn’t a big town. It had ~200 people in 2003. At the time, the town consisted of the old train station, which was the start of the rail trail, the Middlemarch Pub, and the Fisher & Paykel store that specialized in farm equipment (it also doubled as the post office, video store…everything, really). We parked in the side lot and walked in to ask the nice lady running the joint if she minded if we left our car in her lot for a week or so while we hiked the Otago Rail Trail. The exchange went like this:
F&P Lady: Where’s your bikes, lads?
Tony: We don’t have any. Like I said, we’re hiking the rail trail.
F&P Lady: Bike?
F&P Lady: [still confused] Bike?
Me: [over-enunciating] HIKE.
F&P Lady: Ohhhhh, you’re hiking. Alright, then. Park as long as you like.
It was an odd exchange. It got odder when we got our packs out of the car and walked over to the trailhead/defunct train platform. A small girl was there with a camcorder. She wanted to film us as we took headed out and waved goodbye. It felt oddly final and creeped us out a bit.
The Middlemarch Death March had just begun. STAY TUNED FOR PART 2!
First of all, I want to thank everyone that contributed, watched, and bullshitted with us for the Team Sensible Shoes Extra Life campaign, playing Shadows of Brimstone for a bit over 26 hours spread over two days. It was fun, still challenging to our increasingly old bodies, and we hit our fundraising goal. Again, thank you!
Moving on to business, as the BBotE pre-order slots for the window ending November 27th are now up that means we’re sneaking up on Thanksgiving and it’s time to give my PROTIPS for holiday shopping! To the people that are very proactive and organized in their holiday shopping, such as the gentleman that I let place a reserve order in August for shipment on December 18th, I’ll answer your question now: yes, you can place an order now in an earlier production window for a holiday shipment. Just leave a note saying “Delay shipment until $DESIRED_DATE” with your order so I know you want it later rather than ASAP.
The last pre-Xmas BBotE production window will close on December 14th. All things being equal, domestic or international, everything shipped by the 14th should end up at their destination by Christmas Eve. I can’t control weather, volcanic eruptions, asteroid strikes, or unilateral surprise withdrawal from international postal unions that may or may not happen (again), but a week and change is usually quite sufficient to get everything to its destination, even international. I will put another pre-order window up and crank as much out as I can after the 14th, and domestic shipping on Saturday December 21st have a chance to get there by the 24th, but I make absolutely no guarantees about shipments in that window arriving in time. Express mail gets more and more necessary in the last days. I’ll do my best, but that’s all I can do.
To reiterate shopping advice from the previous years, here’s a few things you should probably think about if you decide to place an order for a holiday gift from Funranium Labs:
- Steins of Science Availability is Limited: As mentioned in the previous Twilight of the Steins post a few years ago, I lost my relatively cheap supply line for dewars. I am maintaining some inventory, but not many. If you really, really want one and the one you want is not available, contact me sooner rather than later so I can do my best to get one for you ASAP.
- BBotE Is Perishable: When refrigerated, it has a shelf-life of about three months (possibly longer, but I’m only going to quote three). If you’re going to wrap it up and put it under the tree, this a present to put out on Christmas Eve and the promptly put back in the fridge after unwrapping. Alternatively, embrace the idea of the holiday season and decide that give it to the recipient immediately, for all days are special.
- Let People Know BBotE Is Coming: I know part of the joy in presents is the surprise of what you get. However, joy is not the emotion most people feel when a bottle of mysterious black liquid shows up on their doorstep, especially if it’s been sitting there for a week outside because they were out of town. Give them a heads up, that something’s coming they’ll want to stick in the fridge. I will also tuck handling instructions in the box for a gift and a note stating who sent it.
- The pre-order slot dates date are “Ship No Later Than”, not “Ships After”: I get your orders out as soon as I can, but even in the furthest flung corner of the US with the slowest mail carrier, this means you should have your order in hand by December 18th for that last set of late order slots. If you want to order something NOW to ship later, effectively reserving a spot in a later order queue, you can do so but please leave a note with your order telling me when you want it to ship by.
- International Shipments Go Out Express Mail: Because I don’t want BBotE to get stuck in postal facilities or customs, express is the only way to ship to minimize their time in bureaucratic hell. Expect it to take 3-5 business days to get to you, so time your orders accordingly to make sure things get to you in time.
- APO/FPO: If you wish to send something out to someone with an Armed Forces address, there’s good news and bad news. Good news – it’s no more expensive than priority mail. Bad news – I can’t guarantee any date as to when things will arrive. Outside of active war zones, things move somewhat normally; inside war zones and on ships at sea, things get iffy. Also, depending on routing, some nations (I’m looking at you, Turkey) have bounced BBotE back to me on the basis that it is, and I quote, “Morally Questionable Material”. Amazingly, my shipments to Korea and Okinawa seem to arrive faster than they do to other places on the west coast of the US mainland. Go figure. In short, I’ll do my best but you’ve been warned.
- Local Pick Up: Resupply shipments will go out to all the BBotE Ambassadors as fast as I can crank them out, so be sure to drop them a line if grabbing a bottle that way is more convenient for you. A message to them will help them decide what to fill their cases with. I’m sure they’d like clean and empty refrigerators as their Christmas present.
- Turkey, Italy & Brazil: It breaks my heart to say this, I can’t ship to these countries. Italy, I absolutely do not trust your postal system. The level of theft shipping things anywhere south of Rome is, frankly, appalling. If you ask me to ship to Naples, I make absolutely zero guarantee of it arriving. Brazil, your customs causes shipments to languish for so long that the BBotE goes off before it arrives, even if shipped express; steins seem to be fine though. Turkey, well, I discussed that problems in #5.
- BBotE Production Is First Come, First Served: My maximum daily production output is 12L per day. Thus, people who request 12pk cases will lock up production for an entire day.
- BBotE Has No Kosher Or Halal Certification: While Robert Anton Wilson did confer the papacy upon me, and all the other people in the Porter College Dining Hall at UCSC in 1996, this does not permit me to sanctify food. I do have a helpful Dominican priest in Portland who’d probably be willing to bless BBotE for you, but that’s still not helpful. Sorry.
For those of you who read this far, I congratulate you.
Allow me to fill your life with GOOD NEWS!!!
First of all, I’m back from vacation which means the coffee engines have fired up again and some of you should already have received your shipments. My trip summary:
- If it’s always a good idea to take a Hollywood photographer on vacation with you for the best photos, it is similarly good to go with an archbishop to assure excellent service and access to locations in the Holy Land.
- Similarly, having hot and cold running archaeologists available to give two to three thousand year old cultural context is excellent.
- As I was promised, I am now broken forever for hummus, falafel, and lamb. The secret to a good falafel sandwich is ALL THE PICKLED THINGS. All of them. Cram them in that pita.
- Do not order “Turkish coffee” if you aren’t in Turkey. Your helpful Palestinian hosts will remind you that it is Arabic coffee, it has cardamom, and is inherently better.
- IDF teenagers on patrol in the Old City have terrible muzzle discipline.
- I didn’t have nearly enough time in Jordan. However, I may not have the intestinal fortitude to survive more time in Jordan than I got.
There’s was so much more than that and I’ll be processing that trip for a long time. But now that I’m back, it is time for the next important event: EXTRA LIFE 2019!
“But Phil,” you say “Extra Life was last weekend. It’s over.” Au contraire, because I didn’t get home until last weekend, we bumped our time out to this weekend to play 24 hours of Shadows of Brimstone. Also, some assholes decided it would be fun to do a DDOS attack on a fundraiser site on the day proper, doing some damage to the effort. So, here’s our chance to kick a little in after the fact and offset that. If you feel like it, please go donate to either my personal pageor to our group, Team Sensible Shoes. We are old and weak vs. 24 hours of gaming, but we will do our best with all the caffeine and fine drink we can. And, yes, there will be a Twitch stream. We’ll do our best to remember there is a chat function.
Also, I look forward to getting to yell “PORK DELIVERY!” when the fresh chicharrones from the Pig Wizard shows up.
See you then!