Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Kiwi Quest 2010 - Hello again, North Island!

Photos: 1) Chinese Lanterns in the park in Auckland 2) Civic Theatre in downtown Auckland 3) Lime-flavoured milk....yum? 4) The most entertaining legal-ese I've read on an energy drink. It's a bit murky, but quite funny if you can read it.

Well, today got off to a bit of a rough start when one of my 5 roommates stepped on me while climbing onto the top bunk in the middle of the godforsaken night. It would appear that using the ladder for such a task has fallen out of vogue; rather, it's more fashionable (practical?) to march all over the bottom bunk (and its occupant!) while struggling to heave your adult-sized self up a couple of feet in the pitch dark, most likely after being out drinking half the night. I got doubly annoyed when said upper bunk mate left his two backpacks blocking mine although there was a ton of available space at the bottom of the bed and around the other side. I hope he found his packs later after I moved them out of my way...

Good thing I'm used to getting up early. The shuttle bus is here to whisk me to the airport so that I can return to Auckland today. Since it's a domestic flight, I feel safe taking my apples and orange in my carry-on for breakfast. I treat myself to a chai latte in the boarding lounge while I stare transfixed at the television in the corner which is showing Olympic updates. Olympics!!! How I miss thee! Heck, at this point, I've missed nearly all of the Games, but I do manage to get wind of a few recent Canadian medals and I secretly cheer every time the Kiwi hosts mention Canada.

I do like flying with Air New Zealand. Have I mentioned that yet? They have fantastic cutlery, as close to the real thing as you can get in the cattle class these days, their accents are super entertaining along with their edgy safety videos in which none of the actors are wearing clothes, and they serve great food. For example, this morning I'm noshing on muesli with yogurt and fruit after which I surreptitiously stash my sturdy spoon and fork in my backpack. It's almost enough to offset the ferociously squealing baby nearby.

As we approach Auckland, I can see some pretty fierce-looking dark clouds around the city, but my New Zealand geography isn't good enough yet to determine how much they'll affect my day. My bag made it to Auckland, yay! With 10 flights in less than a month on this trip, I'm always a bit surprised when my luggage follows me correctly. Liz & Ross are both here to pick me up, and it's back to the house for a pretty low-key day after we drop Ross to work.

Ahhhh, laundry again! I never thought I'd be so happy to be doing domestic chores, but a clean pair of underpants sure does cheer me up. Time now to book my two upcoming bus tours: Bay of Islands to Cape Reinga on Saturday (two days hence), then Auckland to Rotorua and Waitomo (the complete opposite direction) on Monday. I had written Cape Reinga and Rotorua/Waitomo down as ideas of things to do on this trip, but after talking with a few people and realizing that I only have about 4 more full days here (darn you, February, for only having 28 days this year - I counted 31...), I figured I'd have to choose between the two locations. I haven't quite got the hang of estimating time required for travel here either. Back home, I calculate distance in how long it takes to drive there (I live 2 hours SW of Toronto), but here everything is in km and my brain is struggling.

Uh-oh, Ross just called home for an early pick-up from work as he's feeling unwell. Liz and I head off to fetch him, and I take the opportunity to get back downtown to do a few more errands. They're setting up for the Chinese Lantern Festival in a big park so I take my time walking through there, admiring the different displays. A longer-than-intended stop at an internet cafe cuts into my intended shopping time as the shops here are not open as late as I am used to back home. Oh well, I guess I'm saving money. A stop for some chicken-flavoured potato chips (which do, in fact, taste like chicken) on the train ride back to Point England, then it's a late dinner and some time for reading before bed. Tomorrow, providing Ross is well enough, our little trio will head north to Bay of Islands.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Kiwi Quest 2010 - Hiking Day 11

Well, as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end. Today is the last day of the hiking portion of my Kiwi Quest, and essentially my last day in the South Island.

Photos: 1) The crazy narrow bridge to cross a canyon first thing this morning. Maximum load: 1 persons. 2) The rest of the group is WAY up on the windy ridge. Photo taken with 5x zoom because I'm way down the side of the ridge. 3) The Tri-Falls at the Emerald Pool 4) Snack break behind some rocks as shelter from the wind. 5) Neat building in Christchurch.

We're up at 6am today because we've a lot to do before we bid adieu tonight. First challenge: eating porridge for breakfast with no utensils. Ha! This is fun stuff. We got practiced while eating pasta without utensils last night so we're prepared for this morning. I used my one-finger method of scooping food to my mouth, but it proved to be too slow and painful for the others to watch so eventually I was ordered to use one of our wooden cooking spoons which sped up the process quite a bit.

Juli and I are going to hang out at the hut while the rest of the group is off to explore a nearby water cave of some kind. It's rather cold this morning, and pretty darn windy too, so I didn't relish the idea of hiking out to the truck in wet hiking boots. I was also pretty tired and really didn't feel like adding an extra hiking section to my day. From all reports, the caves were pretty cool and no one got wet feet, but Juli and I had a nice time chatting and relaxing while the group was gone.

A quick tidy of the hut, then we're marching off down the path heading back toward the van via a very narrow bridge spanning a small canyon. Don't look now but the maximum load is 1 person at a time! As the first person across, I was quite tempted to jump in the middle a bit (my favourite bridge activity), but I sensed I'd probably get in a fair amount of trouble if I damaged the bridge and stranded my comrades on the other side of the canyon. Besides, I didn't have the van keys either...

Everyone's safely across now and the sun is coming up which means we should warm up soon. Keep in mind, I'm hiking in shorts at this point and we're in the mountains. Brrr! Lots of uphill today as we're on a different route from yesterday. I'm slow and huffing and stumbling as usual, and eventually I force my way up to the group who are having a snack break on the side of a ridge near a section called "School Bus Overhang". If I weren't so tired from slogging uphill so far, I'd be faster at whipping out my raincoat to protect me in my sweaty clothes from the cutting wind. As is it, I huddle shivering behind my backpack for a bit of shelter while I wearily chew on some trail mix and gulp water. Last one in to snack breaks gets the least amount of time to rest so I've got to get some food and water into me quickly. I'll heat up when we start moving again which almost always feels way too soon.

Eventually, we're through with picking our way across sheer rock faces, and back to the tussocks that I enjoy. We're heading more overall downhill now so I'm able to keep up better. The grasses are still so useful as brakes when I lose my footing and start to roll in the dirt. Although most of the group is way ahead of me, and the waist-high grasses are often hiding the wee narrow trail we're following, it's pretty easy to stumble ahead in the general direction of the group since the terrain is so open at this altitude. The sun is shining brightly and it's pretty warm even with the strong wind.

We all get a chance to rest and snack again at the point where the trail diverges. Some photos, some water, then I decide that I'll take a turn at the front of the group since the trail is pretty easy to follow now. Across some more tussocks, now we're in some more rocky terrain. Hup, hup, hup! I'm pushing myself hard to keep a good pace for the fast hikers that I can hear right behind me. I check back a couple of times and everyone seems to be keeping up well so eventually my minds drifts while my body marches on autopilot. This happens to me fairly often on this trip. I think it's a protective mechanism in a way: the primitive part of my brain is still keeping an eye on the trail for me, but the more developed parts of my brain are off thinking about things other than my aching feet or the painful muscles in my back or how tired my legs are.

I come out to the top of a ridge, a very rocky area still above the tree line, and it's as though the wind factor just jumped by 10! It's a very narrow area we're marching across, maybe a foot of room to each side, and the trail meanders through the rocks so there's very little room for error. It would be fine most days, but today the wind is blasting so hard that I am literally being blown from side to side. I'm bent forward against the wind and I'm no shrinking violet in size so you can imagine just how strong these gusts were. The whole group is staggering as though drunk out of our gourds. I'm blazing down the trail as fast as I can to to get the heck down to the trees for some shelter. I follow the switchbacks down the steep side of the rocky ridge, slipping a little on some scree, scraping a leg on a particularly large rock. I'm about one third of the way down, almost entirely deaf from the roaring wind, when I think I hear my name called. I pause and look back up the ridge. Where the heck is everyone else?? Oh, there they are, waaaaaay up on the top of the ridge still! They're shouting at me and the wind is ripping their words away. I shout back that I can't hear them. We switch to charades. I still have no idea what they're indicating so I sit down to wait for them to catch up.

Eventually, the whole group makes it down to the forest intact, and all too soon we're crossing the last bridge back to the parking area. Now it's hot again! There's almost no wind down here, definitely nothing like the gale-force on the ridge, so it's a good time to repack all of our bags for the last time. Oi, this should be interesting. I've got to condense all of my gear into just the two backpacks I flew down here with! I managed to gift some travel shampoos to Kirsten who is staying in New Zealand for another few weeks, but I'm left with the rest of my extensive belongings. Why did I go shopping in the South Island?? I sit on my big pack and snap the final buckle in place, then it's time to enjoy Mirjam's delicious pancakes for lunch. No one really wants much of all our leftover food so Sophie will donate it to a shelter in Christchurch tomorrow. What a great idea!

One final clean-up, one final stop for ice cream, then we're on the road and headed to Christchurch. Everyone's pretty quiet at this point. Perhaps they're reflecting on the new friends they made, or the crazy stories we've created, or all of the great photos we've taken of this beautiful country. We make plans to meet for dinner in Christchurch, and before I know it, we're at the front door to my hostel. Ahhhhh, showers!!! How do I love thee after 3 days in the bush?

Clean again, having repacked my bags for the nth time, I dress in clean clothes and head out to find an internet cafe before dinner. I'm in a dorm with 3 sets of bunks although I'm hoping they're not all full by the time I get back. I update my blog quickly, check my email, then find the others who showed to dine. Amazing! I don't even recognize them at first since we're all so showered and wearing clean clothes. Unfortunately, we don't get a chance to say good-bye to Kirsten and Sean as they were meeting family, neither do we find Jane for a chance to say adieu to her. The rest of our motley crew enjoy a nice dinner together before a few final farewells. Wow, it really is over! I offer to walk Louise back to her hostel since it's around the corner from mine, and we end up talking for another couple of hours while seated in a planted area in front of some random building. Good times, good times. I'm going to miss this hiking trip.....

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Kiwi Quest 2010 - Hiking Day 10

Photos: 1) Old coal mining cart at the Blackburn Mine. Looks like it had a little accident... 2) Our skinny little path with cute looking rocks to trip you up if you get too absorbed in the beautiful scenery. The grasses are pretty soft to land on. 3) Woolshed Creek Hut next to....Woolshed Creek. I bet you didn't see that coming. 4) Tomorrow, we'll cross this bridge when we come to it. Don't look down!

I am sad that my hiking trip is nearly at an end, but glad that I still have more time in this great country.

Today, we got to sleep in until 7am. Hooray! We've got a bit of a busy day ahead of us with lots to accomplish, but we also don't want to be rushing too much because it's another beautiful sunny H-O-T day. It's more of a dry hot like Vegas was in August (as opposed to the wretched drippy hot that was Cuba in July), but by early afternoon we'll feel as though we're standing in front of a blast furnace with the door open.

Our project this morning is to get the van, trailer, and tents cleaned up and out. We've tracked a bunch of dirt and rubbish into the van while the tents are kind of "slept in" and the contents of the trailer need to be sorted and tidied. I grab some of our food bins to wipe and sort while others are unpacking the gear from the trailer, sweeping out the van, and rewashing all of our dishes and utensils. Wow, it's amazing how much crap is required to drag 9 people through the bush for over a week!

Finally, everything is put back in much better order, the filthy dish water is flung in the woods, and I quickly retrieve my clothes from the pine branch where they had been drying after my dip in the frosty lake yesterday. I'm already sweating but at least I smell a bit better now. We pile into our cleaner van and take off for our starting point for our final overnight hike to the Woolshed Creek Hut. http://www.doc.govt.nz/parks-and-recreation/tracks-and-walks/canterbury/raukapuka/mt-somers-easy-tramping-tracks/

Enroute, Sophie informs us that she knows exactly where to find the best ice cream in New Zealand, and that a) it's on our way and b) a GIANT scoop (what we would consider 2 scoops most places) is only $2.00NZD {less in CDN!}. Sold! We sprawl in the minimal shade outside the store, panting in the heat and attempting to finish our most delicious ice creams before they run down our hands too much. I got a flavour called "Goody Goody Gum Drops" which tasted like bubble gum and had gum drops in it. Y-U-M!

If I had to guess (because I didn't have a thermometer handy), I'd say it's more than 30C today with minimal cloud cover. We've reached the Woolsheed Creek picnic area and those who were unfortunate (like me) to be in the back of the van are nearly prostrate with heat fatigue. The windows were open, yes, but the airflow doesn't really reach the back of the van. My only saving grace is that the sun was on Sean's side of the van. Pant, pant, pant...let me out!

Since it's W-A-Y too freakin' roasting to even contemplate hauling ourselves and our packs up a mountain for at least 3 hours without much shade beyond the forest section, we put our picnic table on some rocks down by the river under some trees in an attempt to cool ourselves a bit. Another round of sandwiches, re-application of sunscreen, then Kirsten, Louise and I decide to brave the river. Eeeeep! The water is very clear and beautiful, but when the air is so hot, the water feels so cold!! It's a wee bit difficult for us tall girls to dunk ourselves much when the creek is at most knee-deep, but somehow Louise and Kirsten manage to do so. Eventually, I end up sitting in a little pool with a nice cool soaking wet hat on my head, splashing little waves of water over my legs and arms.

Brilliant me! When I realized just how hot it was by the fact that I didn't really need to towel dry after my dip, I realized that I finally had a use for the bandanas I'd thrown in my bag so many days ago. I take one down to the creek and a soaking wet bandana tied around the neck (along with another soaking of my hat as it's already dried itself) proves to be a nice relief from the pounding heat. Louise told me later that my offer of an extra bandana was a life-saver for her. I recommend!

We're doing the Miner's Track (see link above) to the Woolshed Creek Hut and it's projected to take about 3 hours. We'll be eating a late dinner tonight because we're not setting out until about 4pm due to the sun and heat. We're travelling as light as possible again since we'll be able to sleep indoors tonight. After heading into the forest, we pass the site of the old Blackburn Mine where coal was once taken. So....hot..... so Sophie decides to take the shaded side trail to try and keep some greenery between us and the unrelenting, blinding sun. Yikes! This trail is narrow and tricky as all get out as it steeply winds steadily uphill, snaking back and forth on itself while we heave ourselves up and over slippery roots, giant rocks, and uneven gravelly patches. I think we're blurring the line between climbing and hiking, made even more entertaining by our packs getting caught on branches or causing sudden staggering shifts in balance. If you have issues with heights, I don't recommend looking down the plunging hillside about 3 inches past the outside edge of your right foot...

I'm gasping for air, sweat is streaming off every part of me, my legs feel like painful, heavy rubber, and the group has disappeared somewhere ahead. Just another hiking day in my life. Grunting, heaving, cursing quietly, and tripping occasionally, I finally reach the top of the giant cliff of forest and am pleased to discover that it's snack break before we leave the shelter of the woods. I lower myself carefully to the ground on shaky, hurting legs where I begin to gulp water at a rate that alarms Juli so much that she begs me to slow down. I think it was the gasping between swallows that set off her physician alarms. I don't have the energy to tell her this is how I usually drink but I heed her advice. It's too hot to make someone have to save my life if I choke.

We're out of the woods, literally, which means no shade anymore. Hup, hup, need to keep up! Juli and I have a moment of consternation when the group vanishes ahead again and we can't figure out where they've gone. A quick "Coo-ieee!" and we find them again. More tussocks here which means more opportunity to get my feet snagged on beautiful grasses since my lower appendages are too fatigued to lift more than 2mm off the ground. I can see for miles! We're in Lord of the Rings country too which would probably mean more to me if I had any interest in those books/movies. I can see why they wanted to do some of the filming here.

Haul myself over more rocks, up some more hillside, pick myself off the ground and safely assume that no one witnessed that accidental barrel roll since I'm last in line again. At last, we reach the "high" point of our hike at Trig R which is a measly 934m above sea level. I scoff because the Unknown Peak that I conquered two days ago was about 2,000m so now I can climb anything! A quick few photos while Sophie points out our hut in a valley far, far below along with the wee little bridge over a canyon that we'll be crossing tomorrow morning on our way back. My aching feet think that hut looks very far away....

Slip-sliding down more rocks and sandy dirt, add another scrape to the collection, stomp stomp stomp, keep up to the group, my knees are still mad at me for the 5 hours of downhill hiking recently. Everyone's moving quickly now with our dinner destination in sight, but I suspect it's more the idea of shade and a chance to lie down out of the heat that has us so motivated. I can't even remember what it's like not to sweat and I really don't even care anymore. I yank up my droopy shorts once more and keep trudging, hat pulled low to absorb perspiration and keep the sun out of my eyes. I've unintentionally lost weight on this trip and it's not because the food was bad. When I bend over or crouch down, I have to yank my shirt down over my lower back because my bottoms are looser than they were when I left Canada. Turns out tormenting myself halfway around the world for 1.5 weeks is the secret to slimming down!

Yay, we have the place to ourselves! No farting old English dudes, no sandflies either, lots of bunks to spread out on. It's a hut made in heaven. As our bags begin to vomit our belongings and we search for our share of the common items, we discover exactly how light we're travelling: Sophie forgot our spoforknives! These clever utensils are a spoon at one end and a fork with a serrated edge that is used as a knife making up the other end. Much to our own entertainment, we end up eating a fine dinner of linguini with red sauce out of our blue bowls with our fingers. We each seem to have a different style, ranging from plonking ones' face right into the bowl and sucking up noodles to elegantly pinching a few noodles and dangling them into our mouth from overhead. We're laughing as much as we're eating which makes for a really nice final dinner together. Try as we might, we're having a hard time coming up with a meal that would be impossible to eat with our hands. Our best idea is lasagna as the layers would be pretty tricky to navigate. Any other suggestions?

After washing up the bowls, it's time for some chatting by candlelight (DOC huts don't often have electricity), then we all turn in for a good night of sleep after exerting ourselves so much in the heat today. Tomorrow is the last day of hiking.... :(

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Kiwi Quest 2010 - Hiking Day 9

Photos: 1) Spectacular sunset at Lake Pukaki 2) The Hooker River with Mount Sefton on the left and Aoraki (Mount Cook) straight ahead 3) A windy day in the Hooker Valley at Mount Cook National Park. That's Mount Sefton behind me. 4) Spaniard. A plant you should avoid touching if at all possible. It will draw blood, trust me. 5) The Hooker Glacier dwarfed by the 3,754m Mount Cook. This was our view at lunch.

Well, today was a little less strenuous than yesterday, but the scenery was spectacular as always.

Up "early" as usual at Buscot Sheep Station, we are rushing to meet our departure time that we had agreed on the night before. This is because there are two hikes taking place today, evenly divided among us as it turns out. Sophie will be taking Louise, Gerald, Mirjam, and Sean up to the Sealy Tarns - and hopefully Mueller Hut - while Kirsten, Jane, Juli, and I will be left to our own devices in the Hooker Valley, tramping our way out to see the Hooker Glacier. For me, there was no waffling over which trek to choose: the Mueller Hut hike is basically non-stop uphill for hours (in the sun) and it was strongly reinforced to us that whoever is doing that hike MUST stay together. I would have liked to have seen the views from on high, but I knew right away it wouldn't be on this trip. That's alright. Glaciers are pretty cool and now I have another reason to come back :)

Soon we're all piled back in the van, heading down the road to Mount Cook National Park, the jumping off point for both hikes. Since the Hookers will be expected to finish our hike first, we get entrusted with the van keys. Hoorah! Oh wait, it's kind of hard to joyride a right-hand drive van towing a big green trailer... Well, we'll just have to behave ourselves then. A quick making of lunch and distribution of snacks, rapid lightening of packs and reapplication of suncream, then the Mueller group is off to refill their water bottles and tackle the mountains. Good luck, guys!! We'll see you in about 6-7 hours.

The hike through the Hooker Valley is described to us as pretty flat terrain, an out-and-back on a well-marked trail populated with plenty of tourists, and is expected to take us about 3 hours. After yesterday, all I heard was "flat". I'm even wearing my running shoes today and my still-tender feet are quite grateful. It's a nice sunny day, still pretty hot in the high 20s (maybe even 30C), so we don't want to linger too long without shade. We're humping day packs today which is also a nice change. Water? check. Suncream? check. Raincoat? check. Wool sweater? check. Lunch? check. Let's go!

Right away, this hike is different from our previous ones. We're stopping often to take lots of photos, explore little side trails, and laugh at ourselves trying to climb onto giant rocks. There are lots of people around (we're not used to seeing almost anyone on our hikes!) and I'm not at the back of the group for once. It's nice to have a more leisurely pace because it gives more opportunity to really appreciate all of the beauty that surrounds you. Hey, look! My old friends spaniard and madagari are here too.

Soon, we come to a bridge spanning a river full of very grey, rushing water. There's a lake over there, near the base of Mount Sefton, and it's grey as well. We realize that the discoloration is due to the high sediment content of the water coming down from the mountains all around us. Thankfully, we don't need to use this water to refill our drink containers. It's pretty in an unusual way but looks unappetizing. The trail is a bit up-and-down, a wee bit of scrambling over rocks too, but overall, it's pretty easy. We pass a number of people wearing all kinds of footwear from hiking boots like the rest of my group to flip-flops, or "jandals" as they're called down here.

Whew, it's windy today! I'm going to have to abandon my hat soon for fear of losing it. At least the wind is helping to keep the heat down. Now we're picking our way along the side of a mountain, high above another river, but at least there's a fence on the outside of the path here. We did pass a sign that says not to stop in this section because of the danger of rock falls, but do they really mean those things? We have to stop at the end of the path here where another bridge crosses the river to let the people coming toward us clear off the bridge, then it's our turn and boy, it's great fun! I try jumping a bit to see if the bridge will move, but it's pretty solid. I look down over the sides at the river rushing underneath, and we stop in the middle to take a few photos of Aoraki/Mount Cook who is coming into better view.

Hiking, hiking, up and down some low hills and berms. Stop next to the river for some photos and posing on rocks, then back down the path and eventually across a third bridge, this time over a lovely clear blue stream. We take a few minutes to sit in a shelter hut and use the facilities, then back on our feet to get to the Hooker Glacier for lunch because we're close and getting hungry too. It's not very often that I get to dine in the company of an 11-kilometre long glacier that is the source of the Hooker River, at the foot of Aoraki.

We're there! Wow, what a view!!! And holy crap, the water still has ice floes in the middle. I stick my hand in at the edge: yep, bloody awful cold. We huddle behind some big rocks for protection from the wind and haul out our semi-squished sandwiches in the glorious sunshine. We really have been very lucky with the weather on this trip. A few last gulps of water, some more photos of the spectacular scenery, then we're hot-footing it back to the van for some shade and more time to rest. We're still physically tired from yesterday, especially in the knees, so we're looking forward to a relaxing afternoon while we wait for the other group.

Finally, back at the van in the blazing sun, we get a surprise when we discover Sophie waiting for us. Um, why aren't you halfway up that huge mountain over there and where's the rest of the group? Turns out Sophie got quite ill not long after they started hiking uphill, and eventually decided to return by herself, leaving them with her cell phone, the emergency GPS locator, and the first aid kit. Yikes! This is serious. Sophie never shows signs of pain or fatigue or illness so we're rather anxious when she crawls into the van to lie down. Thankfully, our group has both a doctor and a nurse in it so we're in good hands.

After fetching some water to make a cup of tea for Sophie and to wash the dishes we have left over from breakfast, I decide it's time to mend some of my footwear with trusty duct tape as I've been meaning to do for days, as well as sort out all my belongings once again, something I do almost daily as I am living out of 3 different bags in the trailer. Well, there's no one parked near us in this lot so I spread everything out and begin trying to keep track of what I need to keep where and when I will need it next. Not an easy task with the wind and heat, not to mention the fact that people keep driving by and staring at us. I'm sure their interest has nothing to do with the fact that it appears as though I'm having a yard sale, or that I happen to be wearing one green running shoe and one brown hiking boot with pink striped socks that reach nearly to my knees. You see, I need to mend a hole in one of my running shoes, as well as part of the lace system on one of my hiking boots, so since I spilled water on the shoe, I'm wearing the other of each pair until my shoe is dry and fixed. The rest of the group finds the outfit as well as the sorting process of my gear uproariously amusing for some reason.

After a while, my gear has been more carefully returned to the different bags (where it will no doubt be churned up again by the morning), and I am quite pleased to discover far more pairs of clean underpants than I thought I have left. Sometimes, it's the little things that make a big difference... Now we're scrounging for bits of shade in and around the van, and discussing various topics, when suddenly we spot some of the rest of our group returning! We're very excited to talk to them and to see how far they got. Mirjam is missing, but turns up a little while later after having taken a wrong turn. The four of them are thrilled to have reached the Mueller Hut, and as well they should be as it sounded like quite a feat. Kirsten and Jane are quite disappointed that their sore knees did not let them partake in that experience, but both plan to return to try another time.

Sophie's feeling better so we pack up the van and head off down the road to our camping spot on the shores of Lake Pukaki for the night. It's so beautiful here! The lake is a nice light blue (glacier-fed lakes often have beautiful colours from the mineral content and sediment) and we've got a spot that is sheltered from the wind still ripping around. Our closest neighbours are around the point so it's as if we've got the place to ourselves. Boy, is it hot here once the wind is taken out of the equation! We're sweating buckets as we labour to get our tents up and the food out for dinner. A few brave ones go for a swim, and by the sound of their yelping, the lake is pretty cold. I go down to the water to explore and wade in up to my knees to check the temps. Feet? Are you still there? I can't feel you anymore! Those in the water are practicing the jump shot while I take their photos, and eventually I'm so hot and sweaty and stinky that I am persuaded to doff my shirt and wade in deeper. Hooooooooo!!!!! It's freezing!! But, actually, once you go under and keep your body underwater, you quickly go numb and it's really not that bad anymore. This is the theory they sold me on.

I change into my thermals after the freezing cold water and head off on foot to look around. As I explore the little peninsula, I see a total of 7 rabbits hopping madly about in the grasses and trees. I come around the corner from our beach and see the lake stretched before me with Aoraki and numerous other mountains visible in the distance. Un-be-lieve-able. I'm so not in Kansas anymore. Snap some photos of myself and the views, then it's time for dinner with the group and an amazing sunset that reflects quite nicely on the lake. Tomorrow, we get to sleep until 7am!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Kiwi Quest 2010 - Hiking Day 8

Seriously? I don't know how I survived this epic day...

Photos: 1) Watching the birth of a new day from somewhere around 1000-1500m above sea level is an incredible experience 2) Good morning, cute little tarn. The soft light becomes you. 3) Sophie demonstrating our "path" up through the rock fall 4) I conquered Everest before lunch! 5) A beautiful sunset to end a very long day...

We had our first warning that this day would be challenging when Sophie kept describing it as "epic". In my world, "epic" is a term normally reserved for tremendous mountaineering feats such as ascending Everest/Chomolungma or climbing the Matterhorn with your eyes closed. It would also be a long day for us as the outline for the trip indicates we'd be covering about 14km, or roughly 7 hours of hiking.

Well, after a bit of hilarity in our tent last night when Louise's cell phone song couldn't be cancelled, all too soon our multitude of alarms were going off. Good. Grief. It really IS 4 in the freakin' morning. How did I let myself get talked into this on vacation? And how do those Everest climbers cope? Dragging on random articles of clothing, it's time to shove my poor feet into my hiking boots and emerg from the tent to discover that I'm not the only who must feel like a train wreck. The rest of the group is stumbling around in the dark too, throwing a few last items into our lightened packs and refilling water bottles with the help of head torches and flashlights. My brain dimly registers the fact that there's no sign of Sophie yet which is a bit odd since she's usually up before us getting the stove going for breakfast. Meh, she's probably down the path "in the bathroom".

By now, it's nearly 5am and we're alert enough to be concerned about Sophie's absence. More importantly, we're hungry and no one else knows how to use her stove to heat the water for porridge. Suddenly, Sophie darts from her tent, profusely apologetic for accidently setting her alarm for 4:45. I hate to think what time it was supposed to have been set for! but now everyone is safe and accounted for. We gulp breakfast quickly before anyone can gather the energy to crawl back into their tent for a nap, then we're trudging out of camp in the pitch black, leaving behind all of our unnecessary gear in our tents. This is a bare-bones trek, an up-and-back in a few hours, so we're carrying a only few layers of clothing, water, suncream, and muesli bars/snacks in our big packs.

In a matter of minutes, we're out of the forest and carefully picking our way uphill across tussocks. Not everyone has a torch so we've subconciously organized into an "every-other" line of lights. As usual, I'm bringing up the rear so I try to keep my head torch focused on Louise's feet in front of me since she hasn't got a light of her own. This is tricky ground to navigate in broad daylight, with long grasses, random plants or roots, rocks, occasional tiny streams or deep cracks, but fortunately, the sky is lightening incrementally so visibility is improving. As we stop for a few minutes to strip off layers of clothing, I can almost distinguish landscape features around me. Oops, sorry for blinding you. I forgot about the light on my forehead when I heard my name.

A new day is dawning and we're somewhere between 1000-1500m above sea level, traversing the side of a ridge in a valley of the Ohau Range, on our way to bag the Unnamed Peak for our snack break. I couldn't have picked this scenario out of a hat if I'd tried. It actually seems quite unreal to write it down. We stop for a bit to watch the sun creep up over the horizon, way off in the distance. Lake Ohau below us is becoming more clear, the peaks around us are gaining more definition, the lights of the towns so far away are becoming dimmer, and the sky is all kinds of epic colours. Dark blue, nearly black, softening into a lighter blue, purple too, here comes some pink and orange; such delicate blends of colours just aren't justified with words alone. They really need to be seen in person and I treasure that morning in my memory banks. For these few moments alone, it was definitely worth getting up at the cold, dark hour of 4am.

But, with the daylight comes the sun, and since it's summer here in the rainshadow, with the sun comes some impressive heat so we get moving again. Toiling steadily upward, the group is getting ahead of me again, my feet hurt but at least I can see where I'm going now without my head torch, don't focus on the physical parts, part of my mind drifts off to other places, and eventually I catch up to the group again. We're at the bottom of a huge rock slide section with thousands of red and grey rocks of all different sizes scattered about. I've drunk nearly 1L of water already and I no longer really notice the sweat streaming down my face or how my shirt clings to me. Survival is more important at this point. Once we enter the rock slide section, we won't have any more water access until we return to this point so Sophie and the fast hikers take empty water bottles to fill downhill at the creek while the rest of the group starts through the rocks. There's almost no vegetation from here on up, just rocks and dirt, mostly reddish in colour, and I start to wonder if this is what Mars looks like.

Scramble up onto big rock, steady self with pole, step down onto rock that suddenly shifts position, lean precariously to one side and stab frantically for firm surface with pole while hopping to the next rock to avoid catastrophic fall. Slip a bit, steady she goes, which one is more stable? just go, says my brain. Where's the group? Are they following any kind of path? Can there be a path across a rock fall?? That one's huge, I'll go around it, my thighs are screaming and I'm sure my calves are 3" shorter than they used to be. I'm panting and sweating and looking and hopping and skidding and just a scrape then, nothing bad. Are we there yet? Focus on the end, keep the top of the rock fall in sight, ok Gerald is already there so head toward him. Heave sigh of relief upon reaching group, carefully lower self to big rock for rest while Sophie and the fast hikers head toward us with our water. Damn, they ARE fast!

Gulp some water, give thanks for hat keeping beating hot sun out of my face, soaking up the sweat on my forehead, and preventing a scalp sunburn, rise on shaky legs and pay attention to Sophie's instructions on how to best ascend the scree wall behind and above us. Scree is best described in this case as many, many, many teeny, tiny rocks with precious little holding them in place, in a vertical setting. There's the odd bigger rock to use but it's going to be slow and tricky. We're kicking steps in scree to anchor our feet just like you see people doing in a wall of snow. Unreal. There are a number of Chomolungma parallels here, including getting up in the middle of the night, and I can't help but feel that this is one of my personal Everests. Sophie suggests zig-zagging across in a switchback pattern as opposed to going straight up the wall. I'm constantly worried that my feet are going to lose their tenuous purchase, but short of sitting down and refusing to continue, there's not much I can do that I'm not already doing, so I try not to think about it. The rest of the group save for Julie is already up on the ridge. My legs are burning beyond belief and I'm panting like crazy. Stop for a breath or two to lean on hiking pole, slam boot into ground for next step, and the next step, and the next. Sophie is helping Julie find the best way up the last section; keep going, says my brain. Call back to Sophie that I'm ok and can carry my pack by myself, she points out a path that my addled brain finally sees. Head down, keep shuffling forward, be sure of my footing, repeat, hey, I'm finally on the ridge!!

A quick stop for some water and photos, then Sophie points out the rest of the route up the ridge to our goal which is still a bit hidden. I admire the sheer vertical I just climbed and feel a bit pained at what still lies ahead. My legs each feel like a painful, knotted, 2-ton pile of jelly and I don't know if they'll continue to carry me. Must. Have. Faith. In. Self. Plod along ridge, barely able to lift each foot off the ground. Lift, plant, shift weight, that sun is really bright, thank goodness there's some wind because it's like a furnace otherwise, repeat. Check periodically to keep group in sight, let mind wander to another place to keep from thinking about physical discomfort. Another rock slide section, massive boulders I have to climb over, hop to the smaller ones, go around the biggest ones, and finally......... I find the group sitting in the shelter of more rocks!! I made it!! I'm on top of the Unnamed Peak, about 2000m above sea level, in the bright sunshine. I stagger over to an empty spot and heave my pack to the ground before collapsing beside it. I admit it: there were times (plural) when I really doubted I could get here. I just didn't know if I could physically do it, and I didn't know if I could mentally push through the physical pain. But the proof is in the photos and I did it!!! I feel as though I just conquered Chomolungma herself.

I'm so tired I can barely find the energy to open my pack and drink some water. Someone passes the group snacks to me and I eat some trail mix and take a few pieces of chocolate. I dig a muesli bar out of my pocket and slowly begin to devour it. I'm not necessarily starving but I need the energy from it if I'm going to get up again and go back down. Dig two more bars out of my pack, pull on my wool sweater and raincoat plus gloves for protection from the wind. When your shirt and bra are as soaked as mine are, the wind chills you very quickly. Another reason to be wearing the gaiters too as they help to keep my legs warm which are only clad in shorts and boots otherwise. Feeling a little like Lazarus, I rise at last and convince someone to take a few photos of me on top of the world. More water, more snacks, stash a muesli bar in my pocket, doff the raincoat and stuff it back in my pack because we're about to spend the next 3 hours hiking downhill, and it's a steep downhill too. We'll also be out of the wind again soon with no shelter from the blazing sun and I'll be working up a sweat.

If you thought going up the scree wall with barely anything to set your feet on that didn't move underfoot sounded challenging, try going down it! What you should do is go to a ski resort in the summer, say Whistler (because I'm feeling patriotic from missing most of the Olympics) in BC, find their steepest run (without any trees or bushes on it), and cover it with loose gravel. Now hike down it, I dare you. Your feet just might move faster than the rest of you. In fact, figure that will probably happen, and you might accidently slide partway down. Your pack will protect your back luckily. I plant my hiking pole firmly the whole way down and only slip a few times. No one careens uncontrollably which is a good thing. Sophie is pretty much running down the wall but it's a studied, practiced approach. My toes are smashed into the front of my hiking boots, my knees are starting to hurt a bit, my thighs are burning and shaking, my hand is scraped from saving a fall, but I'm finally at the giant rock fall at the bottom of the scree wall.

We're back in the big boulders. I've got company for once as Kirsten and Sean are both favouring their knees behind me. Hop, hop, stretch, steady self, trip, stagger, wobble, save, hop, agh! THUD. I just fell off a giant rock onto a pile of rocks below it in the blink of an eye. Ow, that really hurt. Sean and Kirsten stop to check on me and I assess myself for damage: multiple scrapes, scratches and bruises on both arms, my elbow is bleeding a bit. Both legs are banged up too between my gaiters and my shorts. My posterior is smarting where it took the impact, there's a big gash in the back of my right thigh which is bleeding a bit, but overall, no head injury, nothing broken or permanently damaged so I'm good to go. My pack probably saved my back from numerous bruises and scrapes for which I am thankful as the rest of them start to sting fiercely. I pick myself up, thank the other two for checking on me, and off we go.

When I snowboard, I usually gauge my fatigue level by how shaky my legs are which translates to how often I fall. When I start to fall too often, or in situations when I wouldn't normally fall, I call it a day to prevent any fatigue-related injuries. Well, I just reached that point, but I can't call it a day. I need to pick myself off some more rocks, ignore the new scratches, and keep going. Not only are my muscles taxed, but all the sleep deprivation of the last few weeks isn't helping. We stop briefly at the bottom of the rock slide to regroup, reapply suncream, and rehydrate. Press on because we're sheltered from the wind and it's at least 30C with no shade for a while yet. We still have to get back to camp, pack everything back up, and get back to the truck which is a 2 hour hike from camp. This sun has no mercy.

We're staggering and stumbling across tussocks now. I'm not the only one who looks drunk or whose body is hurting. Louise is skidding ahead of me, whoops - she's down in a pile of grass, back up again. My foot is in a hole that I don't remember seeing this morning. I catch my foot in some grass and topple ungracefully into another pile of grass after rolling for a few seconds. Pretty soft landing. I can barely lift my feet out of fatigue so I'm tripping a lot. Face-first this time, no harm done. Getting up is slightly awkward with the pack and sometimes I feel like a turtle. Downhill again, I don't remember stepping in that creek by accident this morning, slide halfway down hill when my foot takes a step that isn't there, pick self up and continue. I can see the forest ahead of me just before I fall down again.

Back to camp, time to pack everything up so we can get the heck out of here. Daren't take my boots off because I'd never put them back on again. Camp is repacked, we've had a bit more snacks and water, descending through forest now. Everyone's knees hurt and I'm sure more toes are jammed like mine. I'm moving faster now for a change. We pause at the edge of the forest for another break and photos. Only about another hour to the truck although it's all open terrain again. Savouring our last moments in the shade, we struggle back into our packs and continue. I'm motoring now. My head is someplace else and I'm basically on autopilot. I can make conversation when required, but no one's got a lot of extra energy. It's like hiking in an oven. My feet are so sore that every step hurts.

We retrieve Louise who took a wrong turn, I'm churning up the wall of this ditch, somewhere in my brain it registers that this is an improvement for me, keep going and keep pace with Sophie because she has the keys to the van. One last stretch, I'm ahead of everyone else, I can see the ski hut!!! We did it!!!! We take turns at a toilet break where I realize that I've drunk 2L of water today and haven't needed to pee since 4am. It's about noon now, an 8-hour interval, which is a new personal record for me.

I don't even remember lunch this day. I know we ate it but I don't remember where or any details about it. I know that we drove to Buscot Sheep Station to camp in the yard for the night and somehow we got our tents up in the baking heat and scorching sun of the afternoon. We scrounge for shade in the yard, unload the food needed for dinner and breakfast, and vie to be first to use the showers. My stuff's a mess so I wait. I collapse in the tent for a rest where eventually I am joined for chatting by Kirsten and Jane. I dimly realize that we've managed to fit 3 people into our 1.5 (technically 2) person tent. I don't even care if bugs are getting in the open doors. I'm wearing the same clothes as yesterday, I'm scratched and bruised and stinky and filthy, but I'm too tired to give it much priority. We're all in the same boat. After a while, I gather my wits and rise to limp for my turn in the shower. The bottom of my feet feel bruised, as if I'd jumped flat-footed off a 2-storey something and landed barefoot on concrete. I shuffle around in my unlaced shoes and I hate when people shuffle their feet. My knees feel like someone is driving a stake through them if they get bent past 45 degrees so crouching to get in and out of the tent or sit in a chair is lots of fun.

After a nice hot shower and some clean clothes, I feel a little more human and head to see if the dinner prep gang needs help. Venison burgers on the menu tonight. I skip the burger part, but take one of Gerald's mangled fried eggs off the BBQ. Kirsten and I take turns putting on a show outside the kitchen window for our group mates who are washing the dishes, shouting put away instructions through the window, much to our own amusement. Take some photos of the fantastic sunset happening, limp to the bathroom one more time, shuffle into the tent and set alarm for "early" again...... it's been a VERY long day.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Kiwi Quest 2010 - Hiking Day 7

Photos: 1) Louise and Mirjam working on the dinner preparations 2) The beautiful, cold, crystal clear river we camped beside 3) Sweating our way up to camp through the forest. This area is very dry compared to some of the spots we've already been to 4) Good-bye, Lake Ohau. See you tomorrow, providing we survive... 5) Send this shot of me at Lake Ohau back to my family if the 4am hike gets the better of me

This morning had a pretty low-key start. Yes, we were up early as usual, but after eating breakfast, packing up the tents, and doing the dishes, we headed into Alexandra where we were given time to explore the Farmer's Market taking place at the central park. Alexandra isn't THAT big of a town so there was no real risk of losing anybody in the crowd.

There were the usual array of farmer's market vendors selling anything from jewellery to lotions, greeting cards, local fruits and vegetables, junk too. There were three different groups of musicians, scattered around the market, and I felt very jittery when I found myself standing in the approximate centre of their range. My brain didn't really know how to process being assaulted by so much music at once, and all three were very different from one another. I ended up buying some locally grown flatto peaches which were really cool because they're flat on the top and bottom as well as tasting a bit different than a traditional round peach. Check here for more info: http://www.flatto.co.nz/

Eventually, it was time to pack ourselves back into the van, and head to the galloping town of Twizle (permanent population 1200 persons) in order to replenish our food stocks at the grocery store. I offered to go in to help with the grocery shopping (we usually took turns) where, to my complete dismay, I could find no sign whatsoever of any kind of Twizzlers! Here's a town with nearly the same spelling and not a delicious piece of twisted red licorice in sight. Imagine my heartbreak when Sophie gently informed me that Twizzlers don't exist in New Zealand, period. I guess it was too clever to be true. I did, however, discover that Milo comes in bar form which did not impress anyone but me when I shared my new information with the group. http://www.nestle.com.au/Products/CerealSnack/MILO_Energy_Snack_Bars/MILO_Energy_Snack_Bars.htm

Moving on, we crossed the Lindis Pass into Mackenzie country where we soon found ourselves at Sophie's Secret Spot on the shores of Lake Ohau, just in time for lunch. It was a beautiful bright and sunny day, with an onshore wind helping to dispell some of the heat. We were parked in a perfect clearing and I soon found myself down on the shores of the lake taking photos of the incredible scenery. We thought about swimming because it was so hot, but the water was pretty cold and a bit rough so we chickened out. In addition to getting all the lunch food out and ready - we usually had sandwiches because they're easy and quick - it was time to repack our bags (yet again) in preparation for our overnight hike to the Unnamed Peak. This trek would soon become known as "The 4am Hike", but more on that later...

With everyone satiated and somewhat reorganized, we're back in the van headed to the trail head at a private ski club down the road. It's summer right now so the ski club people don't mind us leaving the van and trailer on their property overnight. We'll be hiking up the valley two over from the ski runs which should give you a good idea of the slopes we will be facing.... Holy smokes, look at these houses we're driving past!! For those of you reading this in Ontario, think Muskoka cottages; those in BC might think of places up near Whistler or Horseshoe Bay. We're talking mega-views, big places practically on the shores of Lake Ohau, and intimidating-looking gates at the driveway to keep riffraff like us out. Only drawback? You're at least a good hour of driving from any kind of town for supplies. Oh, wait. That's probably not a problem for the place with its own helipad.

One last toilet stop at the trail head, then we're out in the sunny open, striding across tussocks and stumbling up and down the walls of ditches in an area that was farm land until a year or so ago. Oi, lots of spaniards and madagari here, ouch. And yes, they'll stab you through whatever you're wearing, even gaiters. Boy, it's a scorcher today! And we're pretty exposed here. Good thing we're always reapplying our suncream. A quick rest stop in the shade beside a creek gives a few people time to readjust their backpacks and fill their water bottles, then we're making haste in the blazing heat to the promise of cooler temps in the forest about 45 minutes walking time ahead.

A longer snack and water break just inside the forest, as well as a chance to take some photos, then another hour of hiking up through the forest to where we'll camp for the night. Yay, uphill.....my not-so-favourite thing about hiking.... but I try my best to forge ahead and try to forget my physical discomfort by drinking in the beauty of the woods around me. The few bridges we cross help to break up the fairly constant upward climb, and I hear a few birds from time to time. As we near the top of the forest - and our campsite - we're out in the open for a few minutes, clambering across the bottom of a couple of giant rock slides.

Finally, with the group pretty much out of sight ahead of me save for Julie, I stagger the last few paces and wobble over to a big rock to throw my pack down and rest for a few minutes. I should probably try to breathe a little slower too. Forget talking; that's way down the list right now. I look around me at the clearing and marvel at how perfectly our tents will fit right into their spots with barely a few inches around their perimeter to spare. This is a well thought out camp site! and we're right beside the most beautiful, clear, sparkling river which means a convenient water source for cooking and drinking. As long as I take my head torch if I get up in the night, I probably won't fall down the river bank that we're camped at the edge of.

Tents are being set up, people are digging into their packs to unload whatever share of the food and utensils they're carrying, water is being fetched for the pasta, but where is the bathroom? Funny thing about that: At one point near the end of the hike today, I was by myself in the woods (everyone else was somewhere ahead of me), and, still to this day, I swear I saw a forest-green (no pun intended) portable toilet - known to some as a Johnny On The Spot - with a white roof, sitting by itself in the woods. It was a ways off, but I know what I saw so I presumed this was the bathroom. Sophie had told us that the Department of Conservation had added facilities, a "long-drop" which really meant nothing to me, near our site so I figured "long-drop" was the Kiwi term for portable loos. Um, no. What it actually turned out to mean is that our toilet was a wooden box with a proper plastic toilet seat and lid attached, no walls or doors or roof, perched over a hole in the middle of a clearing in the woods, down a little path off the main path. Huh. Well, I've been in worse so why not? Since the trees were the walls which meant there was virtually zero privacy if someone were waiting on the path, we developed a system whereupon the toilet paper roll was left on a central big rock at our campsite if no one was "in the bathroom". I appear to have hallucinated the original green portable toilet I know I saw. I told you this hiking trip is intense!

It's pasta with red pesto sauce (are we having pesto-flavoured museli for breakfast again?) and vegetables for dinner with your choice of hot drink: Milo, tea, coffee for Sophie, or hot milk powder if that's your game. Soon we're roasting pink and white marshmallows on the blazing bonfire that Sean built, trying to teach each other our specific roasting techniques which range from methodical, slow tanning to shoving the hapless marshmallow into the roaring flames and consuming it in one charred gulp after extinguishing the blaze of burning sugar it becomes. One last trip in the dark down the path to the long drop, then it's time to put out the fire and turn in early. We're getting up at 4am to go hiking tomorrow.....

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Kiwi Quest 2010 - Lessons learned so far

Well, I'm all about the learning so I thought I'd take a break from hiking and share with you some lessons I've learned on this trip:

1) Never underestimate the amount of water required when hiking. At one point, I drank 2 litres of water and didn't pee for 8 (daytime) hours. For those who know me well, it was either a minor miracle or I was somewhat dehydrated. My money's on the latter.

2) When you're in New Zealand, ALWAYS take your jacket when you leave, even if the weather looks sunny and warm. These people weren't kidding when they said you can experience all four seasons in one day. I made the rookie mistake of forgetting my raincoat once, and once only. It isn't just for rain.

3) 2-man tents that you are convinced are truthfully designed for 1.5 persons will actually accomodate 3 people. It will get warm in there, especially when you're seeking shade from the 30-degree sun outside, so leave the end doors open while you chat.

4) Accept the fact that you will get dirty (unless you have special dirt repellant-ness like Louise), sweaty, and stinky. Everyone else will too, and in the grand scheme of things, it doesn't really matter.

5) Cutlery is not necessary for eating. It's actually pretty fun without it if you happen to forget the kniforspoons.

6) There are worse things than pesto-flavoured muesli at 6am or insects dying in your Milo. Marshmallows taste better with fire ash on them anyway.

7) Hills eventually stop going up --> keep hiking! You will get there.

8) It's ok to have your own pace. Push yourself to improve, but not beyond your limits. Don't give up too quickly if it starts to hurt.

9) Keep an energy bar in the pocket of your hiking shorts/pants for quick access. Lollies and nuts are good to stash too, but chocolate-covered raisins will melt and make a mess.

10) Spaniards and madagari are not your friends. Avoid whenever possible, and don't accidently bend into them to bush pee.

11) Wet wipes make wonderful sponge baths when your next chance to shower is 2 days of hiking away. It's amazing what a difference a clean face and hands can make for the weary soul.

12) Find your (head) torch BEFORE it gets dark.

13) Be proud of your nationality as well as tolerant (and interested in!) others. Be prepared to answer random questions about your home country as best you can. Take the opportunity to learn about where your new friends live. You never know when you might be in their neighbourhood next!

14) Keep your camera handy. You won't always have time to dig it out of your pack. Carry spare batteries as opportunities to charge stuff may be limited.

15) Minimalizing is the key.

16) Sunscreen, sunscreen, and more sunscreen! Apply before you need it, and before you think it's worn off. Don't forget to cover the areas that might get exposed as your clothing moves while you do. Gaiter burns hurt and itch when they're peeling.

17) Postcards are an inexpensive, fun way to tell friends & family that you are thinking of them while you travel.

18) Don't count on having regular access to phone and email. A detox can be very good for the mind and body.

19) Anyone can be annoying, especially while in close proximity for days. Try to focus on people's good points. Being negative is easy, but make the effort to get away from that mindset whenever possible. Be open-minded.

20) Find the fun whenever you can. Cell phone songs which can't be cancelled, eating pasta and oatmeal without utensils, inadvertedly skiing on grass, wearing rainbow-striped thermals in public, or realizing the wind styled your hair like a spaniard can be quite entertaining.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Kiwi Quest 2010 - Hiking Day 6

Photos: 1) View of the river (looking downstream) from our holiday park campsite, 2) Rose I stopped to smell, 3) The Shaky Bridge that didn't shake much when Louise and I jumped on it, 4) Restaurant I didn't frequent in Alexandra. ****Please note that photos (and explanations of them) have been added to previous Kiwi Quest 2010 blog entries so you might want to go back and check them out.****

Day of R-E-S-T! A day off!! Showers and laundry!!!!!

So funny to think about how excited our group got about simple things such as showers and laundry. Back home, they're rather mundane and ordinary, but after 5 days of being mostly in the bush, one comes to better appreciate the little things in life.

This morning, we're up early again, decamping our little encampment at Cannibal Bay to head into Alexandra, an old gold mining town in the Central Otago region of the South Island. http://www.alexandra.co.nz/

It's a day of choices which is a bit strange after having had most of the previous 5 days already mapped for us. Mirijam, Jane, and Gerald have opted to go cycling for part of their day off while the rest of us will get camp ready at the holiday park in Alexandra and spend the day faffing. I have a few errands on my list of things to do, washing clothes and myself chief among them!

Soon it was time to drag out the poor tents yet again and set them up to dry in the lovely sunshine and warmth. Our camping spot is right next to a pretty river so I strung my portable clothesline between some trees next to the river as a scenic place for my clothes to dry. As there was some waiting to be done to use the wash machines, plus I had a yard sale in order to sort my clothes and repack my bags for the zillionth time, I ended up walking to town by myself since the others were ready first. I literally stopped to smell the roses on my 20-minute walk, and it was a bit weird to be seeing so many people at once as we'd hardly encountered a soul in the last few days while hiking.

I ran into Sean after my trek to the post office. He laughed when I said I'd just mailed more postcards home after buying even more, asking if there were any left in town now for someone else to buy. The group is amused by my spreadsheet of addresses (40+ for the record) to which I was determined to send a postcard. What the group didn't know was that many of these people, friends and family alike, had been instrumental in various ways in helping me complete my Kiwi Quest that was 9 years or so in the making. Be it donating their empty liquor/beer/wine bottles to me (I saved about $250 that way) to helping me co-ordinate seemingly impossible travel ideas, it was my way of thanking them and telling them that they were on my quest with me in a way. Maybe my card will inspire other "Postcard Wall of Fame" ideas!

After updating my blog at an internet cafe while half-heartedly listening to the older Kiwi-now-Aussie-resident bloke beside me rattle on about cleaning out his mother-in-law's apartment after sticking her in an old folks home, and semi-enthusiastically praising his ability to recognize me as a Canadian by the way I pronounce "Tronno" (aka: To-ron-to), I was hailed by Louise on the street and we walked back to camp together, stopping briefly to attempt to make the Shaky Bridge shake. It did, but not by much.

Tonight is a "real" dinner! Not that our hiking dinners have been anything to complain about at all; on the contrary, we eat REALLY well! It's just that this is our first dinner in a restaurant on this trip. Groomed and showered, our whole group adjourned to Monteith's Brewery Bar for some pub grub. The bikers had fun telling us about their adventures and the rest of us recounted our forays into civilization. Torn between all-day breakfast (which horrified Juli) and a burger with fries, I finally ordered the massive burger which came with a fried egg on it! It was my first encounter with such a thing, but seems to be the common Kiwi (and English too as my Dad informed me) way of doing things. When in Rome...

Back at our holiday park camp, I went to retrieve my regular laundry (the quick-dry clothes had been hung by the river) off the common drying racks outside the shower/laundry/whatever building. Much to the amusement of the guys up on the second floor balcony watching me, my dry clothes had blown off the line as I'd been too lazy to peg them. Stooping to scoop my purple underpants with sparkles off the ground, I realized someone must have felt sorry for me as a lone sock and one pair of underpants had been left pegged. Hey, at least they're clean!