Adventure is dangerous, routine is lethal. 1979 – 2095 km

Randomtrailtales 1979 – 2095 km: Upon hearing of my it intention to walk across New Zealand my Parents, Bons & Tijno, decided to fulfill a lifelong dream to visit the country they’d heard so many good stories about. But instead of hiring camper-van like all others 73 and 78 year olds, or staying in hotels, they decided to go camping in a tent for six weeks and rent a car for an epic road-trip. Mum had bought a huge blue-tube-tent on Marktplaats and the chairs and sleeping stretchers where bought on arrival in Christchurch. I was so proud of them as they took me on a tour of their new blue Palace with its two beds in the middle, very luxurious in all its simplicity really. We headed down to lake Rotoiti, only 50 meters from their tent, and took a swim in the ice cold lake that stretched out miles before us. It was great to dry in the hot sun and catch up on stories from home. That evening my Parents invited Sunny, Unicorn and myself out for dinner in the Alpine Lodge and my Mum had even put on some pink lipstick for this festive occasion and Unicorn wore her town dress. The girls were asked endless questions about why they had chosen to do the Te Araroa and how they had found the Trail to be. In turn, they asked my Parents about their own mountaineering experiences and they told an exciting story. Shortly after they had married, 50 years ago, they went on a three month trip through Africa and it was in Congo where they decided to climb one of the high snowcapped mountains and rented a guide for this seven day expedition. Their guide wore a large hat made of monkey fur and had a machete with him to bushwhack a trail through the jungle. Initially all went well as they climbed up through the dense forest, but when they reached the snowy summit the expedition took dramatically bad turn as their guide shrieked with pain, it turned out he had become totally snowblind. Although they couldn’t communicate a single word in a common language, it soon became apparent that their guide had never been up this high and had no idea how to get down. He panicked, became angry and blamed my parents for going to the top of this sacred mountain whose Spirits had now punished him by taking his sight away. He was now temporarily blind and the only thing he wanted was to get down off the mountain and back home. That night, still high on the mountain, they found a large overhanging rock under which they could make a shelter but my Mother didn’t close an eye all night. She was terrified the guide would chop off their heads with his large machete knife. The following morning the guide was still grumpy but had regained partial eyesight and lead the way back to the village in the valley. At the Alpine Lodge meanwhile we enjoyed an amazing leg of lamb and during dessert my Parents told where their fascination for the mountains had originated from, namely my Grandmother: Emmy Schokking who, in 1928, who climbed to the summit of the Matterhorn in Switzerland with ropes and crampons, accompanied by a girlfriend and a climbing guide. Financially this is something inconceivable these days, hiring a guide full time for two weeks as they climbed from peak to peak. I had no idea my Grandmother had undertaken such adventures and I felt a glow of awe and respect for her. The following day I enjoyed more time with my parents and suggested they join me on the Te Araroa Trail as I continued to the next hut. I thought it would be great to show them the real conditions of the trail with all its tangled roots and jagged rocks. They were delighted to come along and got on their hiking shoes and Mum even wore her ‘Dirty girl gators’ which I had given to her for her birthday last year. After nearly 2 hours we rested and ate some trail mix at the lake shore but before long we were being eaten alive by blood hungry sandflies, we had to get moving. It was very emotional to say goodbye there in the forest when they returned back to their tent. There is a small chance our paths will cross again within the next few weeks. But for now I cherish this gift and will remember it for as long as I live……….. …………… …………..’Age’ is a theme that keeps returning to me during this journey. Most recently through my parents who are still camping and hiking at the ages of 73 and 78. I can only hope to be as active and fit at that age. A few days later I stumbled across ‘Ashley’ high on a mountain saddle. He was 57 years old and carried a plane on his back. Yes, he was a ‘Hike & Fly’ guy (it’s a thing apparently). I had never heard about it but was intrigued to learn more. He explained that he was doing the South Island just as I, but when he reaches the top of a mountain he unpacks his ‘para glider wing’ and flies out into the sun for 25km to 180km, depending on the thermal & wind conditions. In this way he could do the entire Island in 3 weeks instead of the two months in my case. His backpack was huge, about 30kilos (compared to my 6kilo base weight) but I guess the flying made up for that. – Yesterday, I heard a podcast about Dale Sanders who, at 82 years old, had completed the Appalachian Trail. Now although this is perhaps a little extreme, it does show me that I have at least 37 potential adventure years in front of me, God willing. I love it when people defy their age convention and the expectations society projects on us. And to tell you the truth I still consider myself a very young man although when I look in the mirror my gray beard doesn’t always match my inner conviction. Age I believe is just a number that of course does present physical obstacles but mental age is something of choice I believe. The manner in which you conduct yourself, the choices you make, the way you dress and the adventures that you pursue, I believe are not categorized in age catagories. It is also a matter of projection and it surprises me from time to time how people refer to themselves as old when in my perception they don’t look or act old at all. ‘Oh, I’m too old for that stuff’. ‘I’m slow because I’m old’. Well, they say you are what you eat and you become what you say. By referring to yourself as ‘old’, you slowly become it. You kind of brainwash yourself into believing it and slowly those around you also change their perception and treat you the way you treat yourself. I believe this is a waste. A waste of energy and a waste of years. I recently suggested to a beautiful lady in her fourties that she perhaps refrain from referring to herself as old. ‘Stop using the age card!’, I suggested. She was somewhat startled by my Dutch directness but a fruitful and enjoyable discussion followed. You could argue that with all theses adventures I suffer from a healthy degree of DENIAL myself. But like Paulo Coelho once said ‘If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine; it is lethal.’ I love breaking with routine from time to time and stepping away from comfort as I become more and more aware of how shorts the life is that we are given here on Earth. I believe in complementing the routine with adventure. Rotating the comfort of Home with The Great Alone. Recently, more frequently than I care to disclose, there are friends around me passing away due to incurable illnesses. In the fascinating podcast series ‘Before I Go’, several terminally ill people tell of the effect this has had on the last years of their life. Although there is always the initial fear and helplessness, they generally all come to the conclusion that the last few years have been more valuable than the years before with clearer focus and purpose. We are all going to die and simply don’t know the exact moment. Most of the people who hear from the doctor that they only have a few months or years to live, make radically different choices in redesigning their life, with a new purpose. It seems a shame a dramatic events should be the thing that wakes us up out of our ‘routine’ we sometimes find ourselves in. I believe in ‘now’ and that frequent temporary ‘alone time’ helps me focus. I perhaps have taken this concept to a bit of an extreme, though my Wife also enjoys time alone when she ventures on longs walks to Santiago or The Pieterpad each year. As Bob said, ‘I was older then, I’m younger than that now’…………………. ……… ………. ………….I was totally shocked by it, when I first heard about it and now two years later I am doing it, ‘Cold-Soaking’. Inspired by Goldie I decided to reduce the weight on my back to 6 kilo’s and ditch my stove. When I got into Saint Arnaud I handed my Parents a box of 1.5 kilos. No more hot dinners from now on. I was drastically lightening my load as an experiment for the final thousand kilometers of this journey. What would it be like to eat cold food in the evening after a long days hike, as warm food is always said to give you that extra moral boost and I do so love my miso soup and tea. On the other hand there are so many great cold dishes such as sushi, wraps, falafel and pasta salad that are served cold. I went into the town General Store to look for a new cold-soak-cook-system and the only suitable thing I could find was a plastic container filled with ‘12-Pack Bungee Cords’. I inquired if I could have the container but as this was not possible I decided to buy all the items in it as they were only $1.50 each and for $12 I was the proud new owner of a plastic 1 L jar. My usual food is noodles or couscous on which I add some tuna and spicy olives and throw in some peanuts and crushed potato chips for the extra crunch. Even a cold soup is surprisingly tasty. I was lucky that Unicorn had had the same thought and had chosen to stop cooking as well and was also experimenting with lightening her load on her back. Sunny, on the other hand, would have nothing of it and chuckled contently as she ate her warm pasta with dripping cheese. You can imagine the commotion when on the second night in the mountains she discovered that her gas canister was empty and would have to join the cold-soak party to her horror. She couldn’t wait to get back to town and buy some new gas. I decided that I would now go through life as a ‘Frioterian’………. …………. ………….. Walking through Nelson National Park we were treated with some of the most beautiful jagged high mountains this trail offers. It felt as if we were walking straight through the Alps, high above the tree line going up tremendously steep rock faces and descending down narrow crevasses offering only tiny stair case steps to squeeze your way down. In the morning we crept quietly out of the hut, leaving ten sleeping hikers behind and pack up our belongings outside so as not to wake them. By 05:45am Waiau Pass towered above us and was still clad in darkness which would protect us from the glaring sun as we had to climb up over the 1870 meters saddle. I have a fear of heights so had to concentrate very closely on my feet and hands and dared not look down the immense steep drop beneath me from which I had just come. With astute focus on the next step, my hand grasp the rock in front of me for some extra balance. The sun slowly rose and touched the Western peaks around us and transformed them with an orange glow as if they were giant candles flickering on a huge cake which we were climbing in. We could see low hanging clouds hanging hundreds of meters below us as a kind of safety net in the circus and it sometimes did feel as if I was a tropeze artist balancing on a thin rope. But this was not the circus and at times my heart raced with fear as I climb over particularly challenging rocks. There are no trees or shrubs up that high, only spiky cactus grass that slice your ankles. But between the rocks wonderful Iittle Alpine flowers in various colours emerged. White, orange, mauve and yellow flowers like a blanket of bright stars. Reaching the top we were welcomed by blue skies and breathtaking views over the Nelson Ranges and an additional bonus: Internet connection! The last three days before reaching civilization again, we followed the broad basin of the Waiau River with many river crossings and wet feet, and at last the trail became perfect as it wound it’s way through flat yellow prairie land and I let the tall grass glide through my fingers. Finally I could do some fast miles and gently I fell into a trance as the hours and days slid by with the hypnotic hum of insects in the undergrowth.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s