What to get your Dad or Mum for Xmas? Perhaps a signed book with an original Van Go painting! Send me an email to email@example.com, and add your postal address and e-mail address so that I can send you a Tikkie for €33,- (this includes the signed book, a small painting and delivery within NL). Ho Ho Ho, Van Go (The book is currently only available in Dutch and will be published in English and German somewhere in the Spring). OREDER NOW>>
I would like to invite you to a talk I am giving about the Te Araroa Trail on the 18th of April.
Please send me an email if you would like to come,
( firstname.lastname@example.org ) & I’ll put you on the guest list.
Time & location: 19:00 at LAB 111, Arie Biemondstraat 111. Amsterdam. The evening will be hosted by The Freeforce.
(important note: the previously mentioned ‘Dia Avond’ on the 15th of April will not take place)
Randomtrailtales 2711 – 3041km: THE END. It was 4.5 months ago that I boarded a bus from Auckland to the most Northern point of New Zealand, Cape Reinga, where I bumped into Sunny, a total coincidence after having met her just once before in Holland at a meet-up of TA hikers many months ago. The bus was just leaving when it had to stop to let in a late passenger, a tall girl with clean hiking gear, it was Unicorn from Berlin, although I didn’t know that at the time. It was only a few days later that we formally met after the first days hike at the Twilight campsite above the beach. Although we rarely walked together during the day it appeared we had a very similar pace and often found ourselves at the same camp spots after 12 hours on the Trail. It was only after Auckland, 600km into the TA, that we organically formed a Trail Family which we called ‘Butterchicken’, sharing stories at dinner, having fun and watching out for one another on dangerous river crossings. Each of us had set out alone on this journey, but had found ourselves in this group that would prove to be so strong that it connected us for 132 days down to Bluff. We couldn’t be more different, each from a different generation: 27, 31, 45, but coincidentally mentally all 29 years old for this journey. Firstly the ever happy and bubbly ‘Sunny’, the Agnostic heavy metal loving Shingon Buddhist OHenro Pilgrim, a Japanese speaking Oostzaaner, a superb planner with immaculate taste for structure and details. A pure realist, able to channel all her rage and frustration onto the muddy Trail, and subsequently never being grumpy or snappy towards people. Secondly the wonderful ‘Unicorn’, a devout Catholic, horse loving meat eating vegetarian, passionate about opera, and a professional Organ playing musician, a creative writer, mischievous polite and respectful. I had many lengthy discussions with her to learn more about the Catholic Church and the organisational structures and rules behind the scenes. Although we differed on interpretations I learnt a lot from her and was struck by her deep conviction and clear purpose her faith gave her in her life. Lastly ‘Van Go’, a bearded advertising creative wannabe hippie Pilgrim, a family man searching for spirituality in the mountains by going on walks that are perhaps a bit too long. A lucky b*sterd experimenting with a new rhythm in life between work and adventure, city and nature, family and alone time. Three very different characters united by our desire to ‘Thru hike’ the Te Araroa, connecting all of our steps from the North to the very South, 3041km without hitching. Of the +-100 TA hikers we met along the way, only 3 others we know of completed the entire Te Araroa without hitching. We chose not to ‘Hitch our own hike’ and would sometimes be ridiculed as being ‘EFI’s’ (Every F*cking Inchers) or teased as being ‘purists’, but one could argue this says more about the Joker than joke. Although the many road walks were dangerous, they were perhaps also the hardest part of the trail. An elderly Kiwi hiker once commented: ‘What good is an Anker if one small piece of the chain is missing?’ Those missing pieces would come to haunt me. ‘True thru’ for me, it’s the nature of the beast. It is very simple, I take whatever the Trail offers me, the good and the bad. I feel lucky and proud to have walked with two strong women who felt the same way. We were also connected by rising very early each morning and be walking before the sun came up. We were connected by the roles we each had in our Trail family, my role was laundry. We were also connected by ‘Butter-chicken’ which would be the first thing we would order in the Indiana restaurant when we reached town accompanied by the giggling that roled over the table. Girls, thank you so much, it was an honour to walk with you……. ……….. ………. ……..’What do you do when a car stops to offer you a hitch and the driver has blood all over his hands and T-shirt?’ We had left the trail to hitch into town to resupply on food. ‘Hop in’ the man said and grabbed his two dogs by the scruff of their necks and lifted them into the open rear of the truck. What followed was a story that totally captured my imagination. He had just been out hunting deer and was now distributing the meat to those who couldn’t afford meat in town. He introduced himself as Jamie, a 35 year old seventh generation farmer with thousands of sheep, cattle and deer. Although he was a farmer he saw himself more as a bushman and would leave his farm behind in the hands of his staff and head out into the mountains in the winter to live in a simple wooden hut. He would just suddenly leave and only return three or four months later. All he took with him was his dogs, a gun and some beer and whiskey, for the rest he lived off the land. He would hunt deer and wild pigs, forage wild forest asparagus and carrots and eat plants his Grandfather had taught him were safe. I asked him what he did there all day, read or write perhaps? ‘I breathe in and I breathe out, that’s about it’ he said. He didn’t much like the way the world was heading, he enjoyed getting away from it all, although he did like the company of his friends and family that would occasionally come a stay with him for a night or two. It also gave him time to process the stuff he had been exposed to in the Middle East where his special unit had been deployed to when he had served in the armed forces. As we drove into the village of Te Arnau, he went on to tell me that he had been 13 years old when he had first wandered off into the hills and had spent more than a month alone in the cabin, killing and cooking his own meat. A true modern Hermit, something you rarely hear about and yet at that moment I could totally relate to him, however different our lives where. I have always been fascinated by people who seek solitude. Where hermit Monks ultimately have to beg for food, Fugitive hermits have to steal, ‘Thru- hikers’ live from resupply box to resupply box. This Bushman sitting next to me in the car was truly self sufficient, hunting, fishing and gathering, living alone in the woods…….………… ………….. ………
Random Statistics: 132 days to walk 3041km / 22 zero’s / Elevation: nine times up and down Everest from sea level (87000meters up) / 7 kilo weight loss (from 75km to 68 kg) / longest day 55km / dry feet days / 50%-50% man, woman ratio / 2% Thru hike entire TA trail without hitching / 3 pairs of shoes (La Sportiva Ultra Rapor) / 0 (zero) Kiwi birds seen/ 50 possums heard/ 60 million sheep / 700 people start the TA, less than 50% finish / Fastest day on Trail 42km by 14:00 / 46 dry feet days / My first ever ‘Fun-Run’ which is 3 consecutive marathons within 60 hours / 500 wraps eaten / 4 million steps……………………………….Autumn is slowly falling over us, rosebuds, snow, cold temperatures at night and it also means the days are becoming shorter and I have to use my iPhone torch to shine and light up the dark forest trail the first hour as I leave the hut at 6:30 in the morning. The last two weeks proved much more challenging than I had anticipated. It was strenuous work and we got through in one piece but we hear of many people on the trail who experienced unexpected setbacks. One had to be airlifted from the wilderness by a helicopter, another decided to quit one week before reaching Bluff (the end of the trail) because of hypothermia, another got ‘ball-sack chafing’ and yet another was hit by such strong gale force winds that he had to crawl on hands and knees for three hours over the final mountain ridge, tearing up his poor knees. This trail was testing us to the final point at sea. But it felt as if it just got more beautiful the further South we got. Especially the four day stretch out of Queenstown I can recommend to everyone as it has lots of huts, is not too steep and the Mountain Valleys you walk through are stunning………. …………… ……………I have just received official confirmation from the Vatican that they have approved the sainthood of Herminia, as she has performed two miracles in the past three years. She has cared for the family and run the business for months without ever complaining. The kids are not on crack and the business is thriving. Glory to thee Saint Hermenia. Love and thanks to you Herminia, for giving me the freedom to wander and be ‘me’ (she is also very excited to set off on her own walk at the end of the month), and thanks to my children for reacting to my crazy adventures as if it is the most normal thing in the world to go off and wander from time to time. I want to thank YOU all for joining me these past four and a half months in my backpack. I very much felt your presence and writing these weekly ‘Randomtrailtales’ has been one of the highlights of my Trail. It challenges me to think, form opinions, craft words and articulate stories that express what I experience and feel. Thanks also to Thekla for giving me the music of Eva Cassidy which I played endlessly. Thekla sent me one new song every day through Spotify. What a gift. Finally a big up to the main man, my 20 year old friend Goldie, whose idea it was to do this crazy Trail and who never ceases to inspire me. And Thank you to all the special people I met on the Trail, you turned a walk into magic……………………………..I have no specific new goals I feel I should pursue when I get back home as I still have a lot of work to do on the four goals I set for myself after the PCT, namely: 1: to live a frugal life, 2: to write and publish, 3: to become more flexible in my attitude towards those around me, and 4: to go on micro adventures with my children. The one new challenge I do give myself is to welcome more strangers into my life back home, as it was these surprise interactions with strangers on the North Island that had a humbling effect on me. Strangers are simply friends I haven’t met yet…………………………….. …..To my surprise and delight I have recently been approached by several companies to come and give a lecture about my experiences on the Te Araroa and the risks and advantages of solo adventures. I very much enjoy giving these talks, please feel free to drop me a message if you think a talk could inspire your company……………. ………….. Save the date: 15 April, for the upcoming ‘Te Araroa Dia Avond’, where I will give a talk at my home in Broek, you are all invited. (more info will follow).
Randomtrailtales 2619 – 2711km: ’Don’t think so much Van Go!’ It’s something I hear at some point on any trails I do. ‘Just chill and enjoy the moment, don’t overthink and analyze the thought to death’. It’s the nature of the beast I guess. I love looking at a question from multiple angles, it takes a hold of me like an obsession that I can’t shake. A question that has been twisting my mind for a while now is ‘what do all these trails have in common’ and ‘what makes them unique’. What strikes me most is that although each trail is claimed by a different religion with their enlightened one (God, Buddha, Universe, Nature, Sport), they all have a similar goal (the Way, enlightenment, reflection, alone time, healing) and follow very similar phases which you can transition through (physical journey, mental journey and spiritual journey). For each individual the experience is totally different, there is no true or right way and no religion can claim the absolute truth either, but this added layer of ritual and myth can give people a lot of support as they transition through the different phases of the journey. The Te Araroa is only 7 years old with just a few of its own rituals and codes, whereas the 88 Temples Trail in Japan has just celebrated it’s 1200 year anniversary with countless rituals, prayers and monks protecting its history. With such a diverse International crowd coming to hike the Te Araroa you can see a wide mashup of influences shaping this young Trail culture. From the USA come values like ‘leave no trace’ and ‘Trail names’, from Europe come the serious ‘safety first’ attitude from the Alps, and of course the local New Zealand no none sense attitude, their love for the back country, the spartan hut life and fondness of hunting and fishing. The Te Araroa was summed up really well by Jasper and Bibi who hiked the TA in 2016: ‘The North Island is a cultural experience and the South Island the Nature is intense and overwhelming.’ I have found this to be very true with the many touching moments when we were welcomed into people’s homes up North and the raw empty wilderness down South. I have also found that the ‘physical, mental and spiritual phases’ to be true on the TA but due to the fact that it was so much more technical than any previous Trail I found there was less space to day-dream and philosophize inwardly as I had to focus on the reality of my feet each step of the way. It’s a tough trail, but one that practically every healthy person can undertake and have seen people from 18 to 70 years old doing the entire Trail. Perhaps the one thing that most characterizes the TA is that you have to constantly adapt, and fast. As soon as you settle into one rhythm, the Trail demands you switch to another as flat roads transition into steep mud hills, and icy mountain ridge walks transition into wet riverbed boulder fields. Nothing is what it seems, there is no comfort zone, relax one minute and the TA will whip your *ss immediately. The rhythm is that there is no rhythm. Take nothing for granted, life changes when you least expect it and is in continuous transformation. (Perhaps the oldest lesson in the book, but sometimes the simplest things can take 45 years to be seen and understood). This is the lesson I get to take home………………….. ………………..Ever since turning 40 I have been dreading the ‘52 Club’. I began to notice that some in the generation above me in my industry were turning a little sour. Disillusioned by the repetition of their work and looked to make a switch into the ‘internet’ side of the business, only to find it was a lot of hard hours for half the money and perhaps 15 years too late. The ‘52 Club’ is of course merely a fictional mirage in my imagination, it’s members unaware of their membership. There was one commonality that struck me, namely that they seamed lost and had become cynical and longed for the good old days. The danger comes when you find yourself in ‘groundhog day’, unable to enjoy your daily work but caught in a golden cage of a good income, reputation and a comfortable lifestyle. Some settle, wait it out and count down the days to their pension. It is a situation I wish to avoid and have found it to be a very good motivator to try and find new business models and attempt to become debt free by then, however hard this is going to be to accomplish. These are very predictable and inevitable questions that we each may face sooner or later but hope the lifestyle I’ve grown accustomed to won’t dictate and hijack my own life, as you only get one ride. I think we all find it very inspiring when close friends decide to make big career shifts at the top of their career, like Rina switching from marketing to become and an undertaker and Maarten switching his corporate bank job to become a teacher. Or seeing young families deciding to immigrate to new countries embarking on a new adventure with their children. There are not many out there like my good friend Lode who does 50 push-ups every morning to keep in shape as he refuses to turn into one of those grumpy old men in the business with their fat bellies complaining about how everything has changed. To challenge myself I often joke that I wouldn’t hire myself at the age of 52 and began looking for possible alternative models to pay the bills and feel purpose when that time comes. Now however, I am still young and love my work very much and still have seven+ years before the big switch. The combination of work and long distant hikes has formed a good transition for me now. I have many ideas as to what I could do in future chapters but it is too soon to make any conclusions or decisions. Now I enjoy now…….. ………. ……… ………Leaving the sophisticated tourist town Wanaka behind us we headed into the high mountains for the last time in what should have been a 4 day section, but as syclone ‘Gita’ was heading our way and Christchurch declaring as state of emergency we decided to power on and did 40km a day in some of the roughest terrain we’ve encountered. Another reason to keep the pace high was because it started snowing on us on Rose Saddle and the 10 km of icy river Trail were so cold that my feet hurt so much I channeled the pain into speed and found it to be the best motivation to get this section behind us. The only sugar on the cake was our reunion with ‘Popcorn’ our Swedish friend in Rose Hut and the jagged snow capped mountain views around us. We left the mountains behind us to walk into Queenstown, the DisneyWorld for 22 year olds, bungee jumping, skydiving, rafting and mountain biking and partying every night of the week. They have turned ‘adventure’ into a huge multimillion industry here. Tomorrow I head out for the final two weeks and I am really looking forward to it……. ……….. ………… ………… ………….
Randomtrailtales 2423 – 2619km: Reaching the top of another mountain pass, I often switch off the airplane mode on my phone to check and see if there is any cell coverage. Usually there’s none, but if there is a village far in the distance I get lucky and am able to call home through WhatsApp. Huddled behind a rock, protected from the strong wind I hope to get through of one of my three children and it’s so good to just hear their voices and catch up on what is going on in their day. As I have been away from home for four months now, I think of my children at great length during my days alone on the hills. I think of how they have grown and developed and of the terrifying thought I had 16 years ago when we had our first child. It saddened me to think that Cato, our oldest daughter, would be leaving our home when she turned 18 and venture out into the world. Now there are only 500 days remaining before this may become a reality and I intend to use this time together very consciously. I, as you are well aware, have been away from home for 390 days in the past five years, a choice that has given me less time to be with my children, and they have had a distant father during the short window that they are at home growing up with us. (In no attempt to equate myself with Edmund Hillary, it was interesting to read that he would regularly leave his family and work behind for expeditions of 480 days at a time to the South Pole and Himalayas). This is all thanks to my wife’s relaxed and generous attitude, and as a result I feel it has made the time that we are together as a family more intense. I constantly feel a sense of urgency when I’m home to get the most out of our time together. My monthly ‘micro adventures’ with the children, which I do my best to get in their busy schedules, allows us to talk and connect in a way that means a lot to me. I intend to create a new fun project together with Cato to fully utilize these 500 days. One idea Cato and I have been discussing is to do a series of road trips together finding the best steak in each of Holland’s 13 provinces. I secretly hope these trips will spill over and continue when she decides to fly from the nest. Every time I receive one of their voice messages on WhatsApp I replay it many times just to hear their voice. Strangely I feel very close to them, although they are on the other side of the world with a 12 hour time difference, but the voices and everyday stories we share make them feel very close. It is too soon to know whether I was blind and foolish to venture in the mountains so frequently, only time will tell what the affects where on each of my children, on myself and on the relationships we have together. Inspired by the author of ‘Cheaper by the Dozen’ Frank Bunker Gilbreth Jr, I have always enjoyed creating fun projects with my children such as our ‘7 UP family documentary’. While growing up in England in the 80’s there was on TV programma that fascinated me and is arguably the best social documentary of all time: ‘the UP series’ by Michael Apted where several seven years old children from each of Britain’s different social classes were interviewed with 12 basic questions. The series’ seed lies in the Jesuit motto of: “Give me the child until he is seven and I will give you the man.” Every subsequent seven years the same children would be asked the same questions in an experiment to observe whether people could outgrow the class they were born into. They are now 56 years old and the British viewers have followed them throughout their lives. I loved this format so much that I decided to do something similar with my own children to simply document their development as they grew up and ask their opinions, so decided to write down the 12 archipel questions. Every few years during a quiet afternoon on holiday I do an interview with each of my children filming them with my iPhone and ask the same questions each time around: ‘what do you want to be when you are older?’, ‘what do you think of boys/girls’, ‘how important is money to you’, ‘when are you most happy’, ‘what does family mean to you’, ‘what are your dreams’ etc. These short interviews are very intimate and capture not only their thoughts but also their body language which often tells a lot more than their words. It will be interesting to edit and see how the answers and personalities develop through the years……….. ………… …………I can see again, I can feel it, I’m back! For the past three weeks I have been in a bit of a dip due to my stomach bug which drained me and actually brought my spirits down and found myself in a situation where I was walking through the most stunning scenery but unable to appreciate it’s beauty. I have fortunately never experienced a depression and find it difficult to understand what people in a depression actually feel but I know it alters the way you ‘see and experience‘ the world around you. Now although I was not depressed I did experience this sensation of ‘seeing’ and experiencing the world around me in a different way due to my mental state of mind. I also found myself talking about how I felt to others in the hut trying to find like minded people with the same experiences but found this only reinforced and added to my mindset. I was growing quiet and grumpy and not a lot of fun to be around. To snap out of it I had to force myself to stop talking about it and tried to stop even thinking about it and found that this had effect. A positive effect in my case and I was very happy to regain my original optimistic state of mind after a few weeks. It was so good to look around me and really see how beautiful the mountains were. I was saying WoW out loud a lot. The Trail leading to Wanaka has been quite technical taking us through steep river sections and steep ridge descents in strong winds, so I am very happy to be sitting in a bar watching the Olympic Curling with a beer now………. ………. …………. ………A character we have been seeing a lot of the past two weeks on Trail is David. David is a 60 year old South Korean gentleman who loves hiking as much as I do. He decided to sell his small company two years ago and founded a new company become a hiking guide for long distance hikes around the world. He take groups of 8 South Korean clients on trails like the ‘John Muir Trail’ for four weeks and organizes everything for them from their food to permits to their tents. In 2017 he took guided clients to Peru, USA, Italy, South Korea and Spain. He usually stays on a few weeks to do other parts of the trail alone and is now enjoying the South Island of the Te Araroa. I couldn’t compute the idea that his name was David and when he told me his real name it sounded a lot like ‘Trés Chic’ and suggested it be his new Trail name. He proudly accepted his new French name and is no longer called David……….. ………… ……….
Randomtrailtales 2279 – 2423km:
The section after Methven was perhaps the most stunning of the entire trail for me, the land opened up to wide dry mountain valleys covered in tussock grasses as sharp as razors surrounded by sharp blue mountains. It felt very familiar and yet so alien, as if I was walking on another planet. This South Island is nothing like the North Island, completely different. The colours are more subdued, not shouting bright and tropical but as if I was walking through an Instagram filter for days and days. But around the corner there is always something unexpected and soon the dry Trail narrowed, became wet and I found myself walking up through a raging river for the next four hours as the tight gorge led me up and over the next pass. With the snowmelt the water has become increasingly colder and soon my feet became dumb and detached from my body as I lost all sense of feeling in them. It is a little bit as if I was playing a real live computer game, jumping from rock to rock and having to keep my balance as I zig zagged and waded across the river. Once the high pass had been reached a sea of ocher grass stretched on a plateau before me and I switched to auto pilot. I rarely see anyone during these long days and when the sun is out it is so strong that it is as if I am a sponge which is quickly totally sucked dry. The sun sucks all my energy out of me and quite frequently I have to stop, take my backpack off and simply roll into a ball and lay on the ground to rest, grounding myself. It feels safe so close to the earth, on a bed of rocks in the dust. It’s funny really, I’m often exhausted at home in the city too, but I never stop and roll up into a ball on the ground to rest for 15 minutes to recharge. Maybe I should?……… ………… ………… …………… I recently heard a new term: ‘trail burn-out’. I had to laugh at first as I couldn’t really imagine anyone becoming burnt out on the trail. But with so many people deciding to stop the Trail, or skip large sections after more than 2000km behind them, some have express feelings of ‘trail burn-out’, tired of the repetition, exhausted of walking and unable to find the motivation to set up a tent every night in the rain. To be honest I don’t really know what it means to be burnt out. But I guess if you have it it’s very real. It’s one of those things you can only truly understand once you’ve had it, but is very difficult to explain to others. But ‘trail burn-out’, really? I guess they loose the ‘magic’, the romantic notion which captured their imagination many months ago about walking from North to South. It just becomes a lot of walking and nothing else. Suddenly the idea of buying an old beat up Camper Van and doing a hippie road trip just sounds a whole lot more attractive, and the thought can’t leave their mind and over-rules the hike. So what’s the tipping point? That of course is very personal, but in most cases it’s a small injury of illness that traps them in a hostel for a few days as they try to recover. But for the most part it is a mental struggle that is very hard to combat. The mental part of this hike is tough, it’s a damn long walk. I am lucky that I have never been burnt out, although perhaps once got close by becoming chronically tired and unable to get myself out of the red zone of my battery for a few months during a corporate job in my early 20’s. I guess too much of any one thing is never very healthy. One thing is true, in that all this walking is very tiring and if you don’t look after your body and mind you can potentially become exhausted. I have never considered these walks to be a holiday (although Unicorn always teases me that I am in big denial by saying that) and of course don’t consider them to be work, I have always considered them to be Pilgrimages (whatever that means)……… …………………. ……….. …….. It’s been all about ‘rivers’ the past two weeks. Big rivers, the Rakaia and the Rangitata, both between 1km and 5km wide and are both too deep and dangerous to cross and are not part of the official Te Araroa. So we have to find a way around to the other side by having to hitch 140km on dirt farm roads with only 3 cars an hour. It took us 36 hours to hitch around, an adventure in itself, so you can imagine how good it was to get back into the mountains leading straight up to Lord of the Rings valleys with sleeping Dragons, Waterfalls with dancing Elves and smoking holes leading down into the Moria mines.
Randomtrailtales 2095 – 2279km: I feel the end of the trail coming closer every day and I begin to long for home more and more (although I still have 800km to do). I caught some kind of stomach bug 6 days ago and have lost my appetite ever since with frequent hasty visits to the toilet. This is generally not a good combination with walking between 30km a day and soon I was becoming thin, weak and less motivated. To top it all off ‘ex-Cyclone Fehi’ hit New Zealand just as we had a 20km road walk into Arthur’s Pass. As we had expecting the storm to hit soon, we had been hiking fast to get over all the rivers before the potential flash floods came, as more that 2 meters of rain was expected to fall in one day with warnings for gale force winds. We packed up our tents early in the streaming rain hoping to get some miles in before the big trucks hurtled down the road. The road walk was the worst ever, a narrow windy Alpine road going 14% degrees up towards the Pass with no shoulder to seek protection. Just as the winds began to really pick up we finally reached the safety of the Hostel, only to find multiple buckets next to my bunk bed catching the drops from the leaking sealing, oh, and sorry but the heating is out of order! Everything seems to be falling apart as the strain of the kilometers are beginning to take their toll. My backpack frame pops out of its position more than four times a day, my tent has several holes in it and my toothbrush just broke in two. It’s clear my gear won’t last much longer and doesn’t have another adventure in them after more than 8000 km of trails. All these things have an effect on ones mood and motivation and it is clear that the mental challenge is there for all of us as more and more strong people around us decide to call it quits and leave the Trail for good. I count my blessings as I trudge on…………. …………. ………….. ………..The longer I spend the the back country, the more I see how similar I am to my surroundings. Everything blends. Just as the water that flows ever downwards following gravity, I too looking for the route of least resistance going around boulders and fallen trees. After a long day in the heat of the strong sun after leaving Hanmer Spings, we stopped for the night at a tiny orange old hut. There were six of us (and only two bunks), we unpacked our bags and made some food in the grass in front of the hut. The super moon rose (one day before it would turn blood red behind the clouds), I couldn’t but help to notice that we looked very much like a family of Gorillas in the mist. Sharing nuts, patting each other on the back after the long day and waving away sand flies from each other‘s heads. Screeching with laughter, we cared for each other’s swollen knees and gave the sick the best shelter to sleep in. I was even eating raw foods just like the Gorillas. This group of strangers had transformed into a family, sharing and caring and ready to protect one another from dangerous sand flies. The only real difference was that a few of us used fire to cook, that we wore bright neon clothes and that I had the satellite telephone in my pocket and that we could choose to pray. For the rest there really weren’t many differences to be seen. Maybe there were a group of monkey scientists studying us through the bushes………….. ……………. …………….
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.
Randomtrailtales 1871-1979 km: You know those immense downpours you sometimes get when you are in the car on the motorway and can’t see anything in front of you? Usually they stop within an hour or so. Well I was in just such a downpour and it didn’t stop all night and all day. It rained so hard that it even started raining inside my tent that night and the noise was enough to wake me every few hours. The following morning everything in my tent was as wet as outside so I decided to pack up and hike. The only constellation was that it wasn’t very cold and there was hardly any wind. My Trail had turned into a little flowing stream but was nothing in comparison with the mighty Pelorus River a few inches to my left which I had to follow for the next 20 km. This river is normally famous for its clear blue purity but now had turned into an angry brown snake, hissing and roaring past me as it rose and broke its boundaries. There were a few smaller side rivers to cross which took an extra hour as I had to go far upstream to find a safer spot to cross………….. ……………. …………..The following day it cleared and we pushed on deeper into the Richmond Ranges going higher and higher as we hoped to get the most out of the three days of good weather before the expected heavy rain came, and WoW were we in for a great treat: the Mountains! As we passed the tree line the bare exposed rocky Mountain peaks reached high above us, finally we could do days ridge walking, finally we were far away from roads-cafes &society, finally we had arrived. It felt like the entire North Island had been one big warming up, this is what I had come for, I felt exhilarated, exhausted, anxious and totally alive. They wake me up. Mountains, just as the wide open sea, are intimidating and awe inspiringly beautiful through their scale and raw simplicity. They make me feel young, insignificant, respectful and humble me down to earth. Walking up over these summits makes me feel very fortunate to know I am experiencing something only very few people will ever experience, as there are not many people that venture so deep into the Ranges judging by the Trail registers in the huts. I sometimes feel a little guilty that I am seeing more of the country than the locals………. ………… ……….‘You don’t have a tent with you up here?’, I inquired ‘No Dude, I sent it 200kms forward, there are enough huts along the Richmond Ranges’. And he was right, ‘Hawk’ a tall lanky 20 year old from Norway with just a few soft whiskers on his chin, was saving a lot of weight up and down these mountains and sleeping in a dry hut every night. There are small huts every five hours along the trail, each with six bunks. The huts are created by the Department of Conservation and you can sleep in all 2000 of them with a hut pass for only $90.- for 6 months. They are very simple 7 by 4 meter wooden shelters without electricity and offer a big water tank outside with water collected by the rain from the roof (which sometimes tastes a little smoky). Each hut has a small iron wood burner which helps dry out the hanging racks of wet clothes and give the space a sense of home away from home. The moist plastic matrasses are full off weather stains, but feel like a luxurious Hotel bed after 12 hours of steep uphills. The WC outhouse is about 20 meters from the hut and has a deep stinking hole under the seat and provide no toilet paper. Hold your breath and wave the flies away while you sit and stare out over the epic view from the open door. The only downside about huts is that I notice that I can suddenly smell myself and it ain’t good. Wet Dog! and I’m not the only wet Dog in this hut either. Perhaps it’s because I’m not used to having four walls around me anymore. But above all the huts create social glue as you meet many new hikers both South bound and North bound of which 90% are Te Araroa thru hikers like ourselves. It’s great to catch up on new weather intel, share exciting trail experiences and catch up on the latest Trail gossip about who has baled due to the rain, skipped, flip-flopped or will catch up shortly. Never a dull day………… ………….. …………….Climbing Small Mount Rintoul and Mount Rintoul (1731m) were supposed to be the scariest of the entire Trail and although it required quite some effort, I found it totally exhilarating and something I’ll never forget. Although it was still cloudy in the morning, I was very much aware of the steep drop to my right. High above the tree line, this was as close to Alpine walking as it gets, with hours of sharp rocky ridge walking and steep rocky cliffs we had to climb down using our hands and feet to get down the crevices. The steep descents were a little dodgy due to the sliding screet that slid from under my feet but the views of the mountain ranges around me made it totally worth the few fearful steps. I thought my day couldn’t get any better when, during a short lunch break of tortilla and cheese, the girls told me they had a present for me, but refused to say what it was. Intrigued, I packed up and hiked on ahead. Two hours later I heard a loud ‘Yeeee Haaaaa’ and was shortly after greeted by a familiar voice ‘Wazzup homebooiy? Everything okay Dickhead?’ It was of course Goldie who had caught up with us with his ultra light pack, still wearing his Bedrock sandals. We hugged and never stopped talking for hours. A true Bromance reunion in the mountains. Now I know I talk a lot (probably too much), but in Goldie I have definitely found my match and although he always tells me I’m ‘full of sh*t’ and exaggerate too much, Goldie is definitely also ‘full of sh*t’ too. The terrain wasn’t particularly easy, but we flew over it and down the mountain to the next hut as we exchanged all our adventures since we had last seen each other (which as only three weeks ago in Wellington). And then, as we had expected, it started raining again, so much so that the river outside the hut that we had to follow and cross 8 times the next few hours was rising swiftly. We were stuck and couldn’t move forward or backward. When in life do you find yourself literally stuck in the middle of nowhere? There is always an exit, a call or some way out right? Well I now found myself in such a situation, stuck between an impassable river in front of me and another impassable river two days walk behind me. The nearest road was three days walk away but couldn’t be reached now due to the dangerous rivers, there was no electricity, no running water, no cell coverage, no internet, no WiFi code, but we were blessed with the safety of a hut to wait out the upcoming rain storm for three days before the water in the river would subside again. People pay good money these days to rent a cabin in the woods to get away from it all. I must admit I was a little anxious about this uncertain situation, especially as my food wouldn’t last for more than 6 days and I still had 3 days to hike and we expect to be trapped here for 3 or more days. On the other hand I was also very excited to experience a few ‘zeros’ on the mountain in the middle of nowhere. I looked forward to resting my tired body and spending hours reading. I was also extremely fortunate with the company I found myself in; Sunny, Unicorn and Goldie were my ‘Alive’ companies, we were a happy team. Of course the first jokes about ‘who shall we eat first’ and ‘what would be the best way to kill one of those wild goats?’ soon came as we made the hut into our temporary home. We had a fireplace and chopped enough wood before the rain came, making a Palace out of our home. Each of us got our own little plank in the kitchen for our belongings, ever so civilized. As we sank into slumber it became apparent that we were guests in someone else’s home as the knawing noises near our food sacks started. The holiday in our hut was nothing short of glorious. I lay two plastic mattresses on the floor in front of the large fireplace and attended to the flames every 20 minutes. Lying in my sleeping bag with my food bag under my head as a pillow I delved into the youth of Sir Edmund Hillary who wrote about climbing these very same mountains I was now in and sleeping in the same huts I was now in. This brought the book alive even more. My resolve was tested when 5 wet hikers suddenly came into our tranquil home. Soaking wet, full of adrenaline they huffed and puffed, ate a quick meal and were heading straight back into the river gorge that was already rising and that I so feared. Should I join them and take the risk? Or should I stick to my original plan and sit out the rain for two days in the comfort of the warm. Goldie jumped to the chance of adventure and got dressed in a jiffy to head out into the rain with them. I felt my stomach twist and turn with doubt, but finally decided to stay put. The reward was to small compared to the risk, the chance of me being stuck in the next hut with 9 wet hikers just wasn’t appealing enough. I gave Goldie a big hug, wished him well and retreated to my warm sleeping bag to continue reading Sir Edmund Hillary’s biography. Let it rain, let it rain. The heavens opened and dumped buckets of water on our little hut that night and we saw the river rise over a meter by morning. The following day we were joined by two wet hikers with very very small packs. Christ from Denmark and Jordan from the US of A. Jordan was attempting to break the Te Araroa self-supported speed record in under 70 days, compared to my expected 145 days. He was understandably not happy with this holdup, but was just happy to join us with chopping down a trees and getting high. He had to average a marathon through the mountains for the rest of the 1000km. I was having to ration my food as it was still unclear how long we would be stuck, and soon I began to crave for more and cherished every bite. I observed Jordan’s ‘stoveless’ cooking ritual and was quite impressed. He used a small ziplock bag to soak some noodles and cous-cous with some oil and spices. After 10 minutes he emptied this into a large rap and added thick chunks of cheese and cashew nuts and some more dryed spices, rolled it into a wrap and smiled contently as he enjoyed his feast. All this ultra light philosophy was beginning to grow on me and I began to fantasize how I might one day reduce my pack weight drastically from 7 kilo base weight to 5 kilos. After 65 hours in the hut we woke to see that the river had gone down sufficiently for us to venture further. The trail followed the river through and narrow steep gorge and we had to criss-cross the river eight times within four hours. The river was no more than 6 meters wide but was still very strong due to the rain that had fallen. River crossings are quite an art and it was something we still had to learn. I went ahead and slowly ventured into the current leaning heavily on my trekking poles with astute concentration, moving very slowly. Soon the current was up to my waist and I was happy to have put my phone in a plastic bag in my backpack. When I finally reached the other side of the river I scrambled up the rock wall to the thin goat trail. Here I took my backpack off, took a deep breath and return to the water as I assisted Sunny and Unicorn across. You should’ve seen their faces, fear and complete concentration combined with healthy dose of adrenaline got them to the other side. One down, seven to go. What followed was definitely the most technical day of the trail as the path became very narrow sidle track and you often felt as if you could fall into the raging river with the slightest slip. We were rewarded with a fabulous high ridge walk through the passing clouds as we reached 1600m, and got breathtaking views of the surrounding barren mountains. This continued for the following three days as we climbed up and over a number of mountains and dove back down into the valley. Ten days after departing Havelock I finally walked into the Alpine village of Saint Arnaud which was no more than a handful of buildings and when I walked into the camp site I saw two figures with very white hair. To my delight it was Bons and Tijno, my dear parents who had set up their tent.
Randomtrailtales 1733 – 1871km: ‘Make wise decisions’, is an advice you and often hear on trail and in the mountains. There are two things that wait in front of us, the ‘Richmond Mountain Ranges’ and ‘bad weather forecasts’ and we had to make a decision whether to stay or go. From the safety of a small town of Havelock, the three of us sat around the hostel’s kitchen table for hours discussing the different options we could take. Two things that worried us were ‘low visibility’ on the exposed ridges due to clouds and the many ‘river crossings’ which would rise with the amount of rainwater expected to fall in the coming week. We looked at numerous weather apps and satellite predictions and came to the conclusion that the weather just keeps changing every day and that if we waited in town we could actually be stuck for up to two weeks waiting for the perfect conditions. ‘Sunny’ sighed that all these long discussions and meetings were making her even more tired than walking and said ‘Let’s hike!’ We decide to go for it and head out to the mountains. There is always the safety of a mountain hut every five hours along the trail in which we could sit out the rain for 1 to 2 days. We packed 10 days of food for what would otherwise be an 8 day trail. Just as in life, the trail presents many unexpected obstacles and challenges on which you have to make fast decisions. The decision to turn back, stop or sit out the rain for a day in a hut playing card is always a very realistic option. We have clearly entered the ‘mental phase’ of this journey with the puzzles becoming more difficult to crack. In this phase you can loose focus, loose motivation, be pulled back home to new and exciting challenges or homesickness. It’s very sad to see a few dear friends leave the Trail but also interesting to meet new characters who are just starting by exclusively walking the South Island. As for me, 10 days of pure raw nature lay before me and apparently there is an elevation gain equivalent to that of climbing up and down Everest from sea level. I have to admit it does sound a little crazy to find pleasure in doing something like that in the rain…………. ………….. …………..,
All the women I have met on trails around the world eventually have the same issue, ‘their hips’. Although the hip belts have padding, they still result in horrible bruising and friction burns on their hips as most of the weight of heavy backpack is carried on the hip. I rarely hear this complaint from men. But women speak of excruciating pain as if their hip bone is being splinted and the only solution is ‘a sponge’. Yes, a few $2.- washing up sponges that they place between the hip belt and their hip to create an extra cushion. Although some backpack brands do offer interchangeable hip belts that have more padding, these rarely prevent the pain. It still seems like an under developed area within the gear industry with fundamental design flaws. Somehow changing the colour and calling it a women’s backpack just isn’t cutting it…………. …………. ………….
I feel I finally have less restlessness in my mind and more desire to read. I always carry a real paper book with me to read at night in my tent, which I pass on to other hikers when completed, and listen to audio books during the day while hiking. These are 7 books that made a lasting impression on me which I have read out here: 1: Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel. (About Man’s dream to escape society and live a life of solitude in the woods. Thanks Jeff Bakker for the recommendation) 2: Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela (inspiring and humbling) 3: The Moneyless Man (encouraging me to spend less, save more and be more creative) 4: Edmund Hillary Autobiography (a pioneer and local legend) 5: The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran ( great to re-read every year with a new perspective as I grow older) 6: Papillon by Henri Charrière ( best fugitive tail ever told) 7: The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho (life is short, the world is waiting) ……………. ……………. …………….As my body carries me up and down the mountains on autopilot, I find I loose myself in endless Podcasts as they present different questions for me to ponder on for the rest of the day. My favorite Podcasts: 1:TED Radio Hour (about popular science) 2:Dirtbag Diaries (about adventure lifestyle) 3: Keep your Day Dream (about making travel central to your life) 4: Rough Translation (about a different perfect on first world problems) 5: Planet Money by NPR (about how different economic models effect our every day life) 6: Documentary by BBC (radio documentaries about world issues) 7: MNT Meister (about mountain adventures)…………………… ………………. …………. ………..A week ago we left the hip and trendy city of Wellington behind us and took the ferry to the South Island. Some may have heard of the famous ‘Queen Charlotte Track’, from Ship Cove to Picton. It’s an easy, well graded trail with breathtaking views on both sides of the ridge onto Mediterranean coloured bays with Baches (summer houses) only accessible by boat. It was strange to suddenly share the Trail with so many day-hikers and tourists, and it woke me up to appreciate how lucky we are to experience so much of the Trail without meeting a soul. Walking from bay to bay, I was able to jump from the jetty each afternoon into the salty water, but was always fast to climb back out, as I had seen two huge 1 meter wide Stingrays the day we left Picton Harbor.