The historic coal town of Blackball is tucked away on a terrace above the West Coast's Grey River. Once famous as the birthplace of the Labour Party and our nation's trade union movement, it's now a shadow of its former glory.
Some smart-arse once muttered, "it's not the things you do in life that you come to regret but the things you don't". So I quickly say "Yes" to John Etherington when he invites me on one of his Escape Adventure trips through East Africa.
Sou-westerly clouds scud across the pre-dawn sky as we park up at the Skippers' turn-off. It's toasty inside the car. Outside, it's shockingly cold. We face a grim weather forecast. An ark might be needed if the gods deliver the promised floods of biblical proportions.
A Canadian friend once cheerily informed me "if you're being chased by a bear, it's easy to figure out whether it's a brown or a grizzly. Just (quickly) climb a tree. A brown will follow you up the tree while a grizzly will stand at the bottom and push it over, or at least shake it hard enough so you fall out."
Perched on the slopes of the Carrick Range behind Bannockburn in Central Otago is the old gold mining settlement of Carricktown. Its ghosts haunt the remains of their industry from a century ago... old stone huts, water races, abandoned mine shafts, mullick heaps and a labyrinth of tracks. I have a longstanding love affair with this part of the country.
"Mountain biking in South America - are you guys completely nuts?" Almost certainly, but over the years we've often contemplated the possibility of a few Latin American epics. A randomly spotted article about riding in Peru defended our sanity and catapulted us into planning a trip.
Orchestrating multi-day mountain bike traverses has become an unhealthy obsession over the past few years. Last summer's jaunt was conceived over a hearty helping of kumara balls at Main Street Café one night - it's curious how a full stomach clouds one's judgment in matters of endurance and suffering.
The Marlborough region at the top of NZ's South Island is a mecca for mountain biking - covering the full gambit from "ego" singletrack to impossibly steep fire trails. You could get lost there for a fortnight and still find new bits to explore.
Maps, I love 'em. More than that, I get quite excited by them. I collect them like some people collect phone cards or personalised number plates. The metric 50,000:1 series is my favourite and I've managed to acquire the full set. I've done heaps of mountain biking up and down the South Island and a few years ago became fascinated with the prospect of joining the dots to ride it all in one go. After all - I did have all the maps.