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.

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Stuck in the middle of nowhere 1871-1979km

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.

Make wise decisions 1733 – 1871km

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.

Real Nativity Experience 1370-1733km

Randomtrailtales 1370 – 1733km (North Island in the bag without hitching): On Christmas eve I was treated with 35 km of road walking and was delighted to finally reach the small town of Fielding to look for a nice bed in a Hotel after days of hot roads. Sunny, Unicorn and I walked into the reception of the only Hotel in town and asked for a room. ‘I’m terribly sorry, we are totally full’, there was no place at the Inn for us. This triggered our ‘Nativity Play Reinactment Challenge’, this wasn’t going to get in the way of our Christmas, and we set about making plans to follow the star to find the stable. Unicorn is a devout Catholic, Sunny a devout Metal Atheist and I a devout Pilgrim searching for spirituality in Nature. We decided the best place to camp was at a church as Unicorn and I wanted to attend Mass that evening, but here too there was no space for our tents on the small car park. We finally resorted to walking around the block of of the Church in a quiet neighborhood and finally plucked up the courage to ask a man if we could perhaps pitch our three tents on his law on Christmas Eve! To our delight he invited us in, introducing himself as Grant and before we knew it we had joined his wife Louise and their daughters for Christmas dinner. As simple pilgrims following the star, we had only humble gifts to offer, but they were received well I believe. I offered a painting on wood, Unicorn played beautifully on their piano and Sunny shared detailed stories about our Trail. We were humbled by their generous hospitality in our hour of need…………… ………… …………..Sweat is dripping from my nose, the shirt on my back is totally soaked as I finally reach the top of the mountain and see the knifes edge of the Tararoa Ranges stretch out before me. A beautiful goat trail right on the very edge of the ridge of the mountain stretches miles in front of me and I’m lucky with what I see. I’m lucky because I got up at five in the morning to see a perfect view, with not a cloud in the sky. I see the stunning Tararoa Ranges all around me and in the distance the small red roof of the hut I will be sleeping in tonight. The following day I was less fortunate. The three of us rose at five, silently leaving the hut and within half an hour were heading up to the 1400m summit through a dense fog (that actually turned out to be a wet cloud that we were walking through). We could not see more than 15m in front of us, which in this case was perhaps not such a bad thing as the cliffs dropped hundreds of meters to both sides of our thin goat trail. As we climbed the wind picked up, stronger and stronger it blew, and as we neared the top the winds reached about 50mph. There was no time to stop and celebrate or have some food, we headed straight over and down the other side, sticking very close to each other. Suddenly there was an explosion of fireworks around us as we saw hundreds of beautiful white flowers at the very top of the mountain, very similar to Edelweiss flowers in the Alps, it was a breathtaking show of nature. We had to pick up our pace in order not to be caught in a possible storm and be blown off the ridge as two fellow hikers had fatally overcome a year earlier. What followed was the longest & steepest dissent of the entire trail, more than 5km straight down over the ridge and into a goblin forest, which gave us a root-staircase all the way down. When we finally reached the hut at the bottom of the mountain I sighed a sigh of relief and drew a cross across my chest and thanked the moon and the stars that I was safely down in the valley. The ridge had taken us 10 hours to cross but I had lost all sense of time up there as the adrenaline pumped through me. Unicorn later quietly said that she had never been so frightened in her life. This is a real hike……………………….. ……….. ………. Half a year ago I received my tax form from my accountant and noted to my Wife that all this hiking meant that I was earning a lot less money. ‘Well’, my Wife casually replied, ‘Come to think of it, all the periods that you earned less money in your life you were actually a lot nicer.’ It was a simple answer but made me think for quite some time. Had the pursuit of career, reputation & money turned me into a bit of an inpatient dickhead? I came to the conclusion that there was some truth in that. The pursuit of my career had resulted in long nights away from home, more responsibilities and more social engagements, buying stuff and off course more stress. My wife is now actively encouraging me to work less. She is an Extra Ordinary woman and I am extraordinarily happy to have her by my side…………. ………….. …………..One of the most disgusting things us hikers do, is drink our cold dirty washing-up water. I would like to introduce a new word: ‘Shlock’. For those experienced long-distance hikers among you, you will be aware of that moment you drink your ‘shlock’. It is the moment when you clean your cooking pot with some water, you then rub the sides of your cooking pot with your somewhat dirty finger and subsequently drink the cold dirty ‘shlock’ to preserve the precious water you do not want to waste. It is never pleasant nor nourishing but as we wish to leave no trace in the woods even the finest couscous could attract mice or other animals. I invite you all to challenge or embrace this new word……,……… …………It’s always baffles me to hear people freaking out about an upcoming mountain that rises steep up out of the valley that we are presently in. I just don’t get it, I mean going up and down mountains is what we do, that’s what we’re here to do and the only thing we’re actually good at. We go up and down mountains, whatever comes in our path, we walk it. When it rains we get wet, when it snows we get cold, when the wind blows we hang onto the mountain for dear life, when it thunders I get scared and run for cover. Going up steep mountains is basically our core business. Some hikers use paper maps and a compass to navigate the trail but over 90% use a GPS app on their mobile phones called ‘Guthook’, which is amazing. It shows the redline of the trail and if you get lost you can see how far you are from the trail. It also shows water sources, possible places to camp and some hikers leave comments regarding the quality of the water and the reliability of the campsite…….. ……….. ……………While walking along the beach I met some guys fishing and was invited to sharing their breakfast. Father Sio and his two sons originally came from the

Islands of Tokelau, a small Kingdom in the Pacific with only 1400 population. We shared stories and a painting before I finally made my way to Wellington, the most Southern point of the North Island, and where I will now rest my strained body and mind for a few days before embarking on the second stage of this journey on the wilder South Island.

Canoe Naked Day, 1193-1370 km

Randomtrailtales 1193 – 1370km: As 21st of December is the longest day of the year here in New Zealand, Goldie and I figured it was officially ‘Hike Naked Day’ just as it is on the 21st of June in the USA. Only now I just happens to be sitting in canoe, so I turned it into ‘Canoe Naked Day’. I was on the final day of my 7 day trip down the 240km Whanganui river with it’s tall cliff faces on either side reaching up into the sky. 7 days in the middle of nowhere without cell connection but with a lot of food and drinks with us as we didn’t have to carry it on our backs. But ‘Canoe Naked Day’ turned into a bit of a failure as it soon became too hot to be naked. My factor 50 from the NZ Cancer Society was not going to protect my white skin from the relentless bright sun burning down on me on the water and after 3 hours I gave in a covered myself, it was too much to handle. The weather on the river had been all over the place with days of heavy rain for hours, to gusting head winds but for the most part beautiful blue skies and sun. Sunny, Unicorn and I had set out with a two man Canoe and a one woman cayak, but after what happened on the first day we switched to two canoes. That first evening we were setting up camp at a campsite high above the water, when suddenly a wet cold German lady came from the river totally in shock. She had just been saved- by chance- by the canoe rental owner who had been out teaching his colleagues how to use his jet boat. They had found her stuck in a log on a rapid just before camp, trapped between her canoe and a big immersed tree. The power of the rapid had been so strong that she couldn’t move and had got colder and colder by the minute as the water gushed over her. She had been stuck there for over 15 minutes when she was saved. We got her into my dry clothes and made her some warm food as she slowly calmed down. We decided to switch the two cayaks for a big steady two man canoe which the rental company would come and bring the following morning. The remaining 6 days Stine, a German lady in her early fifties, joined me in the canoe and it was good for the four of us as she brought a lot of dry humor and to the conversation. She had just quit smoking two packs a day and was now equally hooked on her new vapor toy, but was very happy and proud to feel that she could walk up all the mountains without squeaking lungs. I had met her earlier on the first week of my journey and whenever the Trail was super steep and dangerous I would always think back of her and think, ‘wow she has to do this too’, I better not complain. I find her very inspiring as she is very Independant and often sleeps totally alone in the woods…………. …………… ………Some people Love Youth Hostels and some people Hate Youth Hostels. I love them. Unlike hotels, they are always places where you meet other people, talk and do things together. You cook together, watch a VCR of Lord of the Rings together, and yes you also snore together in the hot smelling dorm rooms. And yes the stairs from my top bunk always hurt my bare feel like hell when I wake everyone up in the middle of the night to go to the toilet down the hall way. But I’ll always choose a $25.- dorm room over a boring $100,- hotel room. There’s always a guitar in the corner and because of all the young people who hangout there it actually makes you younger I believe. I’m so happy with my YHA member card.

Into another Galaxy 915-1193km

Randomtrailtales 915-1193km: ‘Men can only enjoy that what requires hard work and toil. The harder you work for something, the more you enjoy that. If something is easy, how much reward is there?’ Quote from one of the only 12 finishers of the Barkley Marathon. I am no masochist but I’ve always enjoyed self-discipline challenges and in many ways these long distance hikes ‘thru’ countries are just that. I get pleasure out of embarking on and achieving these self imposed discipline challenges, the harder the Trail, the sweeter the after taste. Why? It’s hard to say, I was brought up in an amazing family which was somewhat Calvinistic with spartan holidays in the mountains where something could always be created out of nothing and that beauty could be achieved by a sober attitude towards life. A box of chocolates would last for two weeks in our family, as we each got one piece for desert in order for the box to last longer and no one touched the box during the daytime. In others families the box would be empty within an hour or less. The self-discipline challenges I create for myself have taken on all kinds of forms over the years such as my first ever diet 5 years ago when I wanted to get rid of my beer belly. I had been thin all my life and was lucky not to have to watch what I ate, but reality had caught up with me. I knew nothing about diets but gave myself the challenge to simply stop eating any form of ‘carbs’ for 6 months and found that the kilos came off surprisingly quickly. I was alarmed to learn that there are carbs in all kinds of foods and it was hard to stop drinking alcohol but the single mindedness of the no carb diet I had prescribed for myself was so clear and simple that it gave me pleasure as I was interesting to see if I could achieve my goal. I lost close to 8 kilos as well as my belly, but a year later it was back. It is perhaps somewhat sad to be running after all these self imposed goals to taste the achievement, but it is the nature of the beast I guess and it’s a great outlet for all my energy and ideas. I like to test myself and create strict unwritten rules to make the challenge as clean as possible. It also makes life so easy without all those choices. I fail many times and bend a few rules along the way as comfort and convenience get in the way, but by and large I always stick to my plan and finish it with blind single mindedness. As a ‘thru-hiker’ it is important for me to complete the Trail from North to South without hitching any of it. The clarity of this rule gives me peace of mind as I never have to ask myself if I should hitch a tough stretch of road walking or an industrial part of a big city as I have chosen to take the good and the bad that comes with this Trail. This single mindedness I find liberating but can also become dogmatic, conservative and inflexible. I have still a lot to learn from my 20 year old friend Goldie who told me ‘Oh f*ck that, I’m hitching the dangerous roads and going on many side trips and plan to learn to surf along the way, I have nothing to prove to myself!’ So here I am, more than twice his age and still very much proving things to myself and enjoying the taste of these achievements. Sure, everyone’s different, but I couldn’t help but wonder about all the fun he is having off Trail and that it can be very liberating to create and change the rules as you go, being free of your own imposed rules and challenges. Whatever, as I always say: ‘hitch your own hike dudes’ 😉 To me self-discipline is meant to liberate and not constrain the soul………… …………. ……….The girls and I set off walking at 5:30am as we embarked on a voyage to another Universe into the Tongarero Galaxy. We climbed up the active volcano bellowing hot gasses (that had irrupted only two years ago), and slowly all sense of time and space subsided. This arid Mars landscape was nothing like I had ever seen before, the rocky surface was bright red, yellow and black. As we scrambled up the volcano on our hands and knees the three jewels of the Universe became visible in the following valley. Three emerald lakes, each with extraordinary different colours, turquoise, green and yellow where Elves bathed and Unicorns grazed. I didn’t have the nerves to climb the 45 degree cone to the final summit as Earthlings die each year from falling stones, but I could count at least 25 bright raincoats climbing up the to the summit before my eyes. This was the perfect place for a photo-shoot I thought, so we transformed ourselves into Tongarero’s Next Top Models and took hundreds of pictures. The land was alive and I could feel a direct connection with the center of this planet as the hot sulfur gas flew up out of the holes beneath my feet. It was a long day before I returned to Earth that evening feeling blessed and excited to share all I had seen with my friends over a Burger …….. …………………. ………..I did my first ‘Fun Run’!! For those not familiar with the Netflix film The Barkley Marathon, a ‘Fun Run’ is 3 consecutive marathons within 60 hours. 42km, 42km, 49km and it felt great. Walking through the Pereora Forest along the Timber Trail through a beautiful forest. Other hikers had opted to do the 90 mile forest on mountain bikes, but we were surprised to complete it walking before most bikers……… …… …..In Taurumanui Sunny, Unicorn and I decided it was time for some well deserved luxury and stayed at Kelly’s Motel and instead of eating out we cooked a healthy meal and had a real ‘Girls Night in’, watching Netflix, eating lots of chocolate, drinking lots of wine, giggling and even a real pillow fight! I never knew that actually happens, but it was great. The following morning Goldie came for breakfast and shared his adventures with us. …………I walked into National Park Village to see a bunch of my dear hiker friends: Shroomer, Cayote, Sergio, and Sabine sitting at a pick nick table waiting for a bus. As they still had more than two hours to kill and I wouldn’t be seeing them for a while, I suggested I give a painting class right there and then to them all. We invited the two others ladies waiting for the bus to join us. I got everyone a piece of A4 paper from the cafe and we had to share my two paint brushes and four water colours amongst the nine of us. It was all triggered by one of the woman saying she simply can’t paint. ‘Can’t’ doesn’t exist in my book, I believe everyone is creative and CAN paint, you simply have to DO it, and let the water do the magic for you. I was strict and firm teacher as they applied the layers of colours, shouting ‘more water – wetter, wetter, wetter’. The hot noon sun dried each layer swiftly and within two hours we had all created beautiful paintings. I was proud of the class as there were excited smiles all around as we ended the class with a big group hug. What an amazing random afternoon, I was so happy…………………………Perhaps it’s time to share something about the Te Araroa Trail. It is only 7 years old and is increasing in popularity each year. The first year only 35 people walked it, and last year 550 people did it and I expect this year will be around 700. The people I meet on Trail are predominately from Europe with about 10% Kiwis and 5% from USA (who all happen to be Tripple Crowners). The trail zigzags through the north and South Island for 3000km and passes through federal DOC forests, a lot of private farm land and many connecting roads. The Trail takes approximately 4 to 5 months to complete and can be done northbound or southbound, I’m a SOBO. The male female ratio is 50%-50% with ages varying from 18 to 73 years old. The costs of doing the TA varies widely from a very extreme budget of €2000,- to €7000,-. 70% are hiking in Trail runners(up to 4 pairs), 25% in leather boots and 5% doing the entire Trail on sandals (mostly Bedrock sandals). I fully recommend it to everyone!

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Clouds 800-915km

Randomtrailtales 800-915km:

Lunch alone in nature can be such bliss. Stripping off my shoes and two pairs of hot sweaty socks to dry in the noon sun. My damp white wrinkly feet gasp for a breath of fresh air as they slowly dry up and come to their senses and the throbbing slowly subsides. I explode my pack around me in the shade to find what I’m looking for and make a parmasan cheese wrap. The primal sensation of feeling long grass under my feet and in between my toes must be hot wired into us as it feels so good and comforting. The bees and flies buzz loudly around my head as they attend to the midday chores and I try to make sense of what they are up to. As I lay on my back to rest, I see the the immense clouds floating above by and see a gigantic lion jumping out of a Viking ship. It reminds me of the fun podcast I heard a few weeks back about the this guy who founded the ‘cloud appreciation society’. The sky is in constant movement with ever changing shades of light as the clouds desolve or grow in front of my eyes. SPAT! is the sound of my hand crashing down on my leg as it terminates the life of a moscito……… ………… ……. …….I am now fully into ‘the physical phase’ of my journey as my body slowly hardens to this steep muddy wet trail. As I exit the forest that I have been living in for four days, I am totally exhausted mostly due to the extremely humid hot summer air that I am walking through. The dens fern Forest with it’s many slippery muddy goat paths is beginning to way down on me and for the past four days my body and mind feel heavy. I don’t allow space for dark thoughts in my head but my mind is slowly becoming empty and numb as my feet go into automatic pilot with their rhythmic crunch beneath me. After 900 km I feel my body is not quite there yet although my feet and legs are very strong and doing very well. It’s more my stomach and chest that are struggling to adapt as my stomach is very touchy with the transition from trail food to city food and contrast of boiled food to fried food is something my stomach can’t take and usually when I leave town after all the greasy sugary food I’m left with a day of the runs. My chest is still gasping for air as I climb the steep mountains and then plunge down to the river and then climb the next mountain. It’s something I’ll probably never hundred percent get used to but as my stamina and fitness slowly grows I hope that within a few weeks my body will be fully adjusted and hardened before I hit the wilder part of this trail down on the South Island….. ………. ……… I walked out of the town of Hamilton with the sight of a very dark sky hanging above the mountains I was about to embark on. Wasn’t that the one thing I had learn from my Mother, not to head into the mountains when there was a storm brewing? But I felt confident and cheerful accompanied by three others and we headed into the mountains anyway, after all the sun was still beating down on us very intensely. As the trail follow the road for a few kilometers it was actually so hot that the tarmac was bubbling. The suddenly the dark clouds above us seemed to form a round spiral circle and I looked up and in the middle of the circle that was the blue sky. We were in the eye of the storm and just at that moment the skies opened and all hell broke loose. As I put my rain gear on large hailstones as big as my thumb began falling on me and it hurt. I put my pack above my head as a shield but this wasn’t going to last, I looked around and saw a bridge the road had crossed 40 meters behind us. I shouted we should check it out and we climbed under the concrete structure to find a small ledge to sit dry under. I was so happy to be safe while the thunder storm now fully roared above the bridge with incredible amounts of rain plunging from the clouds. We made ourself comfortable, I cooked and even read a little and after two hours the sun came back out and we could head on. Oh New Zealand, you test us.