Monday, December 23, 2013

A Christmas eve poem of my ridiculous adventure: an overal summation of the hilarity within my life.

  Merry Christmas Eve everyone!
  Remember I am living in the future. I can tell you this, your today and tomorrow are going to be wonderful. When I say wonderful I mean that they will literally be full of wonder, so keep the eyes peeled and make sure you don't turn an oblivious eye to what is being given to you both literally and metaphorically.
  I woke up today with bolts of energy. So much to do! So much to see in this beautiful town of Palmerston North. It reminds me of Boise.  It's home to New Zealand's largest university Massey University, so its full of aspiring young people filled with ambition, optimism and angst, ready to learn and change the world!!! Suckers :) Hahaha. I kid I kid.  Honestly though, it is a nice town and really not a bad place to be unexpectedly stuck for the holiday.
  I had intended to come here and get a foot xray while house sitting for a friend (whom I have yet to meet actually), but things get silly around the holidays.  The key which was sent over a week ago has yet to show up at the post office where I was suppose to pick it up. And in order to get an xray, I first have to go to a doctor and essentially get a doctors note saying I need an xray in order to get an appointment to get an xray. So basically I have to go to a doctor tell them what I already know I need, pay them to confirm what I already know, walk across town to the radiology center, get an xray, and pay them to tell me the parts I don't know.  It's silliness I tell you! Silliness I am willing to do, but yesterday was hectic and I didn't have the mental stamina to follow through with all those actions. Instead, I sat down at  beautiful park in the middle of town at the foundation of a  minimalist building whose sole function seem to be projecting classical music for the masses, and I wrote a sarcastic poem of my follies. Enjoy

A Christmas Poem of my Stupid Life

On this day of Christmas eve's eve, I sit in a park and I ponder
of the jokes, pranks and tricks played on me, laid on my feet. I am life's jester.
My visa was lost, my flights were delayed
and my bag didn't make it on the last plane.
They knew where it was, but it took them 3 days
to send it from Sydney. Reunited again!
My bag was too heavy, my toenails too weak,
the rain was persistent, and caused swelling feet.
The rubbing and rubbing and rubbing of toes
caused them to fall off. I have the "No big toenail woes."
I limped through 3 forests, west coast to east.
I got tendinitis, but I made it at least.
I took some time off, and then hit the trail
with he fine company of friends I just couldn't fail.
We made it to Auckland with joy, and with laughter.
The doc said to "rest, and hit the trail after."
I posted up on Waiheke, the island of wine.
Beaches galore, I was going to be just fine.
The last stake pounded, my tent firmly erected,
it started to rain. This was NOT the weather projected.
For 36 hours it rained and it poured.
Oh man how it rained!!! And it was going to rain more.
That much time in a tent, things get weird, that's the truth.
While playing the mouth harp I chipped my front tooth.
What started as grass turned to pockets of puddles.
From puddles to lakes, this was no time to muddle.
I ferried back to the city, caught a bus the next day,
and headed to Hamilton without delay.
From Hamilton, south, over farmland and hills,
up ridges and mountains, through forests that thrill.
To the Top! To the Top! Away we will go!
but with 10 days off, and an old lady hip, this up-going was slow.
The tough get going, but these goings are tough.
But you can't be too sad, in your very first hut!
We laughed and rejoiced under the setting sun's glaze,
while some left the next morning, some of us stayed.
A refreshing day off, then time for more trail
I once thought I was strong, but it turns out I'm quite frail.
"I will soothe these old bones in geothermal pools
Maybe that will do the trick." thought this optimistic fool.
Two days of soaking, and now a long story short,
I sit in a park here in Palmerston North.
I came here to housesit just to keep things cheap
I might also get an xray of one of my feet.
I went to the post, where waiting for me,
should have been a post retstante package, with a house key.
"There's no package for you," she politely explained.
My heart sank deeper than it already had been.
"Check back after lunch, it may be here by then."
When, oh when, will this ridiculousness end!?
So... on this, the day of Christmas Eve's eve, I sit in a park and I ponder
on the jokes, pranks, and tricks played on me, laid at my feet.
I am life's jester.

Life right!? What a ride!  I am happy and grateful for all of you and wish you the best of holidays. Keep your eyes open and searching for wonder.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Hamilton to Puhautea Hut: Majestic scenes, injuries, friends, and impromptu mountain top yoga

  I headed out of Hamilton early with Celine, one of the French women I had met on the first night on the trail ate Twilight Beach.  She was also inching her way back onto the trail after suffering from tendon issues which had forced her off the trail for 3 weeks, and I was glad to be in good empathetic company.

Did I mention Hamilton is where the Rocky Horror Picture Show was written and first performed?

I would have LOVED to have been the artist hired to cast this sculpture.

Let's do the Time Warp!!

  Everyone is so fit at this point. Their clothes are looser than when we first began and I am definitely feeling less than adequate having sat in hostels and tents for the last ten days, supposing to stay off my feet and eating food sometimes out of sheer boredom. Have I mentioned before how awful I am at holding still?  Where I was planning on feeling thin, stringy and wiry, I was actually feeling more disgustingly squishy and fat.  90+% of all of this trip is a mental game, please keep that in mind. Where you are at mentally, directly effects where you are at physically. On the bright side of things and with an optimistic flip of the brain-switch, being back on the trail will turn this all around quickly.
Crossing boundaries

  The first day out of Hamilton was all road walking and although it's not my favorite I was happy to have had an easy graded re-introduction.  My feet were sore, but doing well and my heart was singing appreciations when we finally found the place to camp for the night in beautiful green rolling hills. Sheep bleating greetings amid random limestone rock formations served as the welcoming committee for encampment.

I was so enthusiastic at my reunion with tramping that I created two projects under the setting sun that evening. Afterwards we all dined together and shared many many laughs. I had been missing the company if my trail family, and it was a wonderful realization to find that they had become exactly that. Family.
  As we laid down to sleep the wind gusts paid visit and we all discussed the next morning how we sat awake in our tents waiting to be blown away. But the angry air must not have lasted too long because we all gave up thinking about it shortly and fell into slumber. I was exhausted, and I would not be surprised if I literally fell asleep with a smile on my face.
  Celine and I got a head start again in the morning but it didn't take long for the group to catch us, and eventually later in the day, to pass us by. It never really does though.  Everyone says it's not a race, and they would be right in saying so, but it would be a lie to say that each person in the clan isn't more than acutely aware of their place in the parade.
Another treasure. I tried to take the skull but it wouldn't let go.
We stopped at a campsite with a beautiful full stream, ate lunch, filled up on water, and began the 7km stretch up the mountain.  My my this was some beautiful forest! The first 4 km were a polite steady grade. The sun was playing hide and seek behind the clouds, so it was warm and humid, even more humid with the moisture trapped among the trees than in wide open spaces. I was sweating profusely! Seriously and impressively so, as will be finely displayed for you in several photos I am sure.

I told you the vines are like something out of an Indiana Jones movie.

  My right hip was bothering me, which isn't out of the ordinary as over the years I have had some chronic issues with it. Luckily just before the steepest part of the hike to the peak of the tallest mountain I had hiked so far, my hip finally gave way and came partially out of socket, before thankfully changing its mind, making an about face, and re-entering the socket where it so often forgets it belongs.  The last 3 km were extremely slow. I did okay though.  Each summit has a trophy waiting for you at the top, disguised in a gorgeous view and shrouded in a bit of pride. Valleys mingling between dwarfed mountains below, hills, volcanoes and off to the east the ocean.
  Perfectly placed, and perfectly timed, Francine pointed out to me an etching on a boulder beneath the viewing platform where it was written "Amazing life Sara!"
  Too true. Thank you life reminder.

Sweat, mud, and a mid-smart-alecky comment face

Treetops and ridges from whence we came
30 feet from the helicopter pad positioned directly before the tent pads and hut i took a step onto a rock and slipped off the edge forcing all my weight onto my right leg and giving my hip one last solid jarring.  Before I had time to process what happened I let out an awful sound and my eyes flooded.  I put my head down in an attempt at hiding behind the bill of my baseball cap and tried to sneak into camp.  Unfortunately,and on most days in the most welcoming manner, when you are the last to arrive into camp everyone stops what they are doing to check your status.
  What did you think of the hike?
  How are you feeling?
  How are the injuries?
  And just an overall review of your mental status, because as I will mention a million times, its 90+% mental.
  There was no sneaking into camp for me. Everyone saw me cry...and that show of weakness was the worst part of it all.  Being injured is one thing, being seen as weak is not something I am accustomed to and it was absolutely embarrassingly infuriating.  But it is what it is. You get over it and move on.
  I had officially made it to the summit, and to my first hut. I am hopeful that if I can hike 3 km up steep terrain on a complete shit hip, then I can get through the rest of this trail :)
  The sun made a beautiful spectacle of the sky. A peace offering perhaps.

Back Row, left to right: Pieter (Belgium), Manu (France)
Front: Me, Ami (Kiwi), Laura (Australia), Celine (France), Francine (France)

Trail Family
  The following Pieter, Jason, Manu and Laura continued on while Celine, Francine, Ami and I took a day to rest and just, more than anything soak up the beauty.
  I realized during me time in Hamilton that my fall away from my yoga practice while on the trail was a detriment to the maintenance of my spiritual, mental and physical health.  Celine had mentioned never having done yoga, so. we took the mats from the bunks in the hut, carried them out to the helicopter pad where we had 360* views of the world below, and I gave my first yoga class.  It was the most zen I have felt since my arrival in New Zealand and served as an inspiration for the next sculpture.
aka the yoga platform
  The day of rest was spent eating, talking about food, and eating. Food and gear are two of the most common topics of conversation among trampers. I think we all also managed to sneak in a nap. It was pretty much the best day ever.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Letting go and taking a rest...

The nesting Gannets on Muriwai Beach

In a knot hole

Dave and Jo, to whom I owe much gratitude.

Fast forward through the next series of days, because on a journey like this city life is dull, and any time spent in them is met with the same resistance as an approaching visit to the dentist. I decided to go to Auckland and give my foot a day of rest. It has been giving me issues since we made it out of the forests and into Kerikeri, about 2 weeks ago, and it was doing the opposite of improving. Just walking along a sidewalk without a pack was unbearable, my limp turning into a permanent walking feature which was great practice for me to perfect my gangsta strut. Cross that off my list of life accomplishments :) For the past week I had been hiking around with a lamb skull attached to my bag. Rita had found it in a field and kicked it toward my attention. I find it fascinating how quickly people pick up on my love for bones and decay. Try walking around a bustling metropolis as a woman in your 30's, carrying a house on your back, covered in tattoos, smelling like a stale collection of weeks of sweat, with a heart shaped patch stitched to your bag, while carrying a lamb skull in your hand. You get some stares, and yes, I did notice people steering their children away from me. Fair enough. But the art must go on! This day's project was to photograph that skull all over the city only to be cut short when I dropped and broke it while making photos in a park. What to do? The answer so obvious. Hide the remaining pieces in nearby trees with the hopes that when seen by on-lookers a small history of how the skull came to reside in the park would be written and played out inside their heads. In that knot-hole, in that tree, in the middle of Auckland :) Side note, I did travel back through several days later to find the lower jaw piece had vanished, but the main skull section was still in the same knot-hole, but had been turned upside down. Unfortunately I did not have the foresight to photograph its progress. Remember the guy I had mentioned before whom I met at the helicopter pad with the trekking group at the top of the mountain? That chance meeting turned into a beautiful stream of unbelievably appreciated hospitality as he and his wife allowed me to stay with them for a couple days while I rested up in hopes of avoiding a doctors visit. Dave Fereday and his wife Joanne afforded me the most gracious hospitalities. A bed, in a room all to myself, as I listened to the rain pour down outside. A tub!!!! They fed me wonderful vegetables and fresh eggs from their chickens, chocolate, icecream, and on Thanksgiving Day (the real one this time), they were so incredibly kind, went above and beyond, and acquired a proper thanksgiving dinner from a roastery. How could I be so lucky? It gets better. Mere kilometers from their house on a beautiful black sanded beach at Muriwi resides one of four nesting points for Gannets. They collect here by the thousands during this time of year to mate, nest, and once the chicks are ready they take their first flight...all the way to Australia. They will stay in Australia and return to NZ once again, years later when they themselves are ready to mate. I rested, and it was helpful, but it wasn't improving fast enough for my impatience so I finally went to the doctor to receive official news of what was happening. I knew exactly what he was going to say, yet it still hit me like a ton of bricks. I had severe tendinitis and I needed to give my feet a true rest. "You have to stop walking...for at the very least a week, maybe two." After seeing my hesitation we had a talk about the project, why it was so hard to stop, the expenses involved with stopping, etc. He recommended I go to Waiheke Island and take some time, rest on a beach and only make art, thinking that if i were posted up on an island it would limit where I could walk and maybe actually get me to hold still for a while. I checked the weather and it looked like a great idea. I think I will refer to the weather patterns here as Cybal. Crazy and constantly changing its mood. I was rained on for 36 hours straight. Not a slight rain, a downpour. So I did the only thing I could do to keep the spirits high. I made a game and an art project out of it. "24 Hours in a Tent." Let the game begin! The rules: You can only leave the tent to use the bathroom and to make food. Songs sung, harmonica played, talking to myself and laughing at my own jokes, having a debate with myself and playing both sides. (I won by the way). At one point I started practicing my mouth harp and tried experimenting with muting the notes or singing while playing. While muting I closed my teeth a bit too much and struck them with the metal prong chipping the tiniest tiniest bit of my front tooth off...which is when I decided that I knew this country was going to leave me a changed person, I was however expecting to return home with all my body parts intact. So I tried to strike a deal. Dear New Zealand, I will not try harder to challenge you to try any harder to get me to leave, simple out of fear for the rest of my parts I still have whole. I will however, acknowledge your power, relinquish some pride, and ask politely, "You have proven yourself a worthy adversary, and I am humbled before you indeed, so would you mind putting the boxing gloves away and simply let me enjoy you and revel in your beauty as I came to do? Many thanks, Your tooth-chipped, toenailess, tendinitic, wandering fool, Saratops I hope that works. Most of the tent project is on film, so again you are going to have to wait for the results. But it was decided after 36 hours that it was time to move on. I don't enjoy, but I don't mind being rained on when I am on the trail. But to just be sitting in it for no reason is ridiculous and stupid and boring and I was done with it. I stayed in Auckland for one night, then took a bus south to Hamilton, where I currently reside. I have met 2 other people here in this hostel alone who have been laid up due to injuries on their feet. My Australian friend Jason came in last night with the same tendon issues I was having and says he needs a few rest days, which is impressive because that guy is a hiking machine! I don't know the full state of my next 3 friends coming through other than that they should be here in the next couple days, they had a terrible day through the bush the other night and didn't find a place to sleep until well after 9 and dark, and that they were "in pain." I take no joy in knowing other people are hurting but misery is company at least in the fact that I now feel like less of a whiny baby. This trail is difficult. Once everyone gathers and is rested and healed, we will again depart. And I am glad to not have to move on without a trekking partner.
The setting of 24 Hours in  Tent

The guts of the operation

A skeptical debate

I found a new FUNction on my camera that is suppose to beautify you

Good lord I am so pretty now!!!
The Journey. Low Tide.

The Journey.


Lil' ol' me.

Goodbyes and Facing Fears

I slept with crazed dreams. The kind you only see flashes of and only half remember, but not in a way you can describe with words. Lucid hallucinogenic mayhem during REM. And so the day begins. Off again and onward. It was a long, steep, technical day through the Dome Forest. When I say technical, I don't mean anything along the lines of having to use climbing gear and ropes and harnesses, not that kind of technical. Rather I mean each step must be perfectly choreographed. Each foot planting perfectly executed, balanced, and timed. You are dancing with nature, and you must follow her lead. We passed the 500km mark today! It's disappointing to know I didn't get to actually hike all of that, but still an exciting feat. And we are officially 1/6 of the way through the trail. I am still trying to understand how I managed to go from being the person who says "Oh that would be so cool to..(insert some sort of super-human seeming feat here)," to actually being able to say I have hiked hundreds of miles. Each day is a day and each day has its feat. Each a focal point to approach until it is crystal clear, you standing in the bullseye of its crispness, and eventually over a series of days you turn around to look at the trail you have travelled and you see how far you have come, and it all looks so far away both in space and memory. Turn around, refocus, and step onward, there is more to be seen. In my journal I wrote, "My knees hurt from the downhill, my thighs, calves and butt hurt from the uphill, and me feet and ankles are wrecked from all of it." This was my favorite day hike out of all of them to date. Beautiful weather, the best of company, a good hearty trek, feeling healthy and strong and by 3:30 we were lunching at the Dome Cafe, where Pestion and I shared our first kiwi milkshake. With a limited amount of time to enjoy the pleasure of Rita and Martin's company before their departure into Auckland and onto Vietnam we hitched to Waiwera and posted up on a plot of grass across the street from a pub. It rained through the night and cleared by morning. We only had to trek 9 km along beach rocks at low tide to get to the next town of Orewa. The rock terrain was something out of an old Star Trek episode. Otherworldly. I admit this is where I start to get a bit nervous. After Martin and Rita depart I am on my own again. My concern is not of being alone, I have been practicing the art of being alone over the past year, and find that I quite thoroughly enjoy and cherish my own company. And please keep in mind the vast difference between being lonely and being alone. Some people never have the pleasure of being able to distinguish the two, but they are existential light years away from each other. My concern of being alone is safety. Maybe I am over thinking things, but a small wrong move out there could end in the worst way. Even just since I have been here two people died on a mountain on the south island when they were caught up unprepared in a weather shift and both died of hypothermia, one several hours after the other. They were just on a day hike. Am I nervous to hike alone? Yes. The three of us went to the grocery, selected our drink of choice, found a spot on the beach and enjoyed what was thought to be our last night together. We talked for hours. Of our accomplishments through our journey, (both together and separate), of future goals, places seen, past travels and the hopes we have of our experiences to come. But mostly, we laughed. Seldom along the journey of life do you have the privilege of finding people who feel like they have always been a part of it, but these two I can say with all honesty, were always meant to be a part of mine.

The great Kiwi milkshake at thew end of the Dome Track


The Strand

Seaside Sci-fi

Ummm, see a doctor

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Te Arai to Music Mountain

A proper stage @ Music Mountain.

More backtracking. It has been so long since I have had the ability to post anything on a computer, it is hard to recollect back so far. Thankfully my clever sister insisted on buying me a waterproof sketch pad to take with me on my journey. For the most part it is full of journal entries and on the back side of the pages random bits of bus schedules, hostel prices and the contact information of travellers I have met along the way. On one side thoughts, on the next, scatters. Essentially though, aren' they one and the same? For now, with as little computer availability as I get, this may just be a series of stories,and the photos might have to follow at a later time, but I will do what I can to share images. So, we celebrated Thanksgiving on a beach at Te Arai Point. Crazy young rif raf partying through the night. Possums chewing through my tent and bag. Pure craziness all around! We rose early, shared a "shitty mocha" to start the day off right and were on our way. In case I haven't already explained, as an added luxury I sometimes have a "coffee" drink in the morning. Why the quotation marks? First, instant coffee, from the eyes of a spoiled snobby ex-barista of ten years, is not coffee. It's like the Easy Cheese of the coffee world. Its a horrid fabrication of the idea of coffee, but when push comes to shove, shove off! I will take it! So I have an old plastic peanut butter jar filled with milo, (an ovaltine-like vitamin fortified chocolate powder), and instant coffee. The day has now officially begun. Leaving Te Arai and heading toward Pakiri (pawkree) Beach we decided once rounding some extension of beach rocks to take a short cut and avoid walking along the beach all day, and cleverly avoiding a river crossing right before the campervan site at days end. The crossing was marked at "waste deep during low tide" and you had to time it just right or else you had to be game for swimming. No one wants to swim with a 30+ pound pack on, let alone risk getting any of their gear more wet than they ever have to. We hiked down some old marked roads, beyond warning tape, warning signs, and what would be the perfect setting for the beginning of any horror movie. I can see it now. 3 dirty backpackers thinking nothing can go wrong, and leisurely strolling on their merry way through a logging site while taking a short cut to the beach. Ominous music playing in the background. We did get a bit turned around, but after several hours made it through the forest and came out to a clearing next to picturesque Tomarata Lake to find two skinny-dipping kiwis enjoying the afternoon sun. Which would also have played nicely into the horror movie scene. We continued along a dirt road several kilometers and passed a section where a DOC trail was suppose to lead off, but somehow we couldn't seem to find it. Eventually we passed over a fence and followed an old farm road, leading off toward where we were inclined to believe was the trails beginning. It wasn't at all!!! We were on someone's private land just walking over hills and giving their livestock something to chew their cud at. When we came to a farm we just stopped to explain the situation to the confused looking land owner. She told us we were not the first people to come tramping through their property. Someone else had done the same thing a week prior. I suppose if you are going to be a fool, its good to know you have company. Our short cut had already taken us near the amount of time it should have taken to trek our entire days travel, and we were only about half way. Today was the day we swore off short cuts forevermore. Hours and hours of walking a dirt road followed. Think about that for a second...hours and hours in scalding sun, dirt road loathing feet and mind , knowing you could have been feet in the sand, swimming in the ocean, tent erected and ready for sleep and relaxing. But eventually we made it. The next morning we rose early and departed by 8:15. It was going to be one of the hottest days yet and the climb was taking us into Omaha Forest. At the peak of Tamahunga Mountain (436m), we rested on a helicopter landing pad. My first thought and statement was "I wish a bluegrass band would magically appear, because this would make an epic dancing platform." A few minutes into our lunchtime lounge session we heard voices through the trees. Two people emerged with a friendly greeting. What a surprise! Encountering people, let alone people not specifically hiking the trek, while on a mountain top had never happened before and was certainly uncommon. Imagine our shock when minutes later more people began rounding the corner and coming up through the forest. One at a time they emerged, repeatedly, until by the end of it there were about 30 hikers all gathered together, resting on a mountain top helicopter pad. And not one fiddle amongst them. Dreamers can dream! The hikers were members of a Meet-Ups group. They just go on weekend hikes. I met one man in particular who had not heard of the Te Araroa, actually, most people I have talked to are unaware that there is a trail that runs the whole length of the country, anyway, this particular gentleman was very excited about the trail as well as my project and ended up playing a very important role later on in my experience here, when a week down the road, he and his wife put me up for a few days at their house, but we will get to that later. We finished the mountains for the day and carried on toward the town of Matakana where we were offered a lift by the first two people who emerged at the top of the mountain for a day hike. We lunched and had an ice cold beverage. More road....and another offer froma local for a ride. Much obliged to skip the road we took him up on his offer. Let out nearer the top of a mountain, we walked several kilometers more with intentions of finding a place to pitch a tent near the start of the next section of the trek so we could wake first thing and conquer the Dome Track which was a hearty series of mountains and turned out to be one of my favorite hikes. We never made it that far though as we were stopped by a man as we walked by his front porch asking us if we were hiking the Te Araroa. Well yes we are. "Ya, I've heard about you and your tattoos," he said. "Would you like a place to stay for the night? I let trampers pitch up in the yard. There are four other groups here already." Welcome to Music Mountain!!! That's literally what this place is called. An old music venue that had been run down many years prior, and recently bought by this couple with every intention of reviving it to its original glory. Hot tub, a mother-in-law house which we were allowed to use for a shower, a terraced back yard with tiki torches to light the way, and a huge professional stage. Apparently we had just missed two nights of music and parties. Drat! Martin, who is a musician, as well as a professional sound and lighting guy, was in heaven. Mouth agape, and very difficult to pull away from this place. Music Mountain, Magic Mountain, call it what you will, it was perfect.
Pestions view overlooking Pakiri Beach

Martin hypnotizing the onlookers

Add caption

My future home!

Matakana bathroom beauties