Monday, March 5, 2012


Last school week was a tough one. I learned that my friend Denise had been moved to a hospice care facility and her health was rapidly deteriorating. Feeling so far away, I battled with the decision to come home or not. I decided against it, and braced myself for what I knew was sure to come. During this time, I attending my first UC Tramping club meeting. They told us about an overnight hiking trip this weekend. I felt vastly unprepared based on the "supplies list" they publicized, but found myself signing up anyways. Thankfully, they lent me a pack, and tent. The rest of the week I spent in class or gathering the bits and pieces for my sure to be adventure. Friday evening I tossed and turned not wanting to accept what I could tell was eminent. I was trying desperately to sleep as I speculated on the amount of energy and effort I would need to get through the next day. To no surprise, I received an email in the middle of the night that Denise had passed away. I felt sick, and overwhelmed with emotion yet I pulled myself out of bed, dressed in the warmest/ most waterproof clothes I have, strapped on my pack and headed for uni. Did i mention that the weather forecast was rain, cold, and wind? 

so off we went to Lake Sumner Conservation Park. It was about an hour and a half to the turn off for lake sumner. Before I go any further, I'll note the trouble UC Tramping club has with bus companies. They set up these trips that require bus transportation, and the company we used this year is the last in the area that will work with them. Why you might ask? Let me set the scene. It's mid morning, raining, cold, and we're on a gravel road heading into this valley. There are 80 trampers split onto 2 buses. I sat in the front seat, and I'll tell you our bus driver was STRESSED. The road was in fairly good condition, but it's covered in blind corners and fords (where the water crosses over the road). Oh, and the bus we were on was an old volvo bus from the 60s. It was a standard, and the gears were tricky to get into. The initial plan was for the groups to be spread out into 4 different tramps based on skill level. 3 of the 4 routes required a river crossing to start the day. River crossing in NZ is a dangerous activity. The rivers rise SO quickly and lots of trampers die each year trying to cross unsafe rivers. Not even the swim bridge was safe to walk over. So on the way to the only available trailhead available, the first bus dropped a tire in one of the fords. Still raining and freezing cold, we all piled out of my bus because our driver refused to go any further (note that he's sitting on a hairpin. Don't know how he managed to get out of that one, but he was there to pick us up sunday, thank goodness!!) We start the trek up to the other bus and on to the trailhead. Just as we approached, the bus had been pushed out and was making it's way back over the ford successfully this time. 

We got to the start of the tramp, and left in groups about 10 minutes apart. As we start walking, the rain lightened up and i started to think 'this isn't so bad after all'….. Then we come to the bridge where there are 80 of us trying to cross a bridge that only 1 person can be on at a time, and it takes about 1 minute to cross. do the math, thats a long wait. Oh and did I mention it started raining again, and it was really cold? I made a big mistake not taking my pack off and eating something right off the bat. I just stood there, completely miserable. That put me behind the 8 ball having not spent the energy moving around some blood to my extremities. At that point, I could not feel my hands, and I didn't want to move. Then the shivering began, and the oh-so-friendly safety officer informed me that i'd managed to enter stage 1 of hypothermia and insisted I drink some of his hot tea from the thermos. Not too long after that, I was shuffled over the bridge. it's a lot scarier than it looks from the ground, and when you're already cold and miserable, it seems MUCH worse. I was SO glad to get to the other side, and I immediately started walking to try and warm myself up. I honestly can't tell you much about where I was at that point because I literally was looking at the ground taking 1 step at a time wondering why the hell I paid money for this. To be fair, even when I did look up, there was such low visibility, it wasn't that interesting. Not until about 2 and a half hours into the tramp I began to feel my hands again, though they were hardly functional. Simple tasks like buckling my pack back together took quadruple the time it should have. About this time, it stopped raining, and we made it Gabriels Hut. This is just a quick 20 minute walk from Lake Sumner. We ate lunch, and even got a glimpse of sunlight which I actually ran over to make sure I didn't miss. The last hour and a half was in the beach forest, and was all muddy, up and down, and peppered with stream crossings. We seriously crossed the same river 14 times… Whoever was making that path must have wanted to make certain that you arrive at the camp site with your feet completely soaked. Another bridge crossing, and we'd made it. After setting up the tent, I was beyond excited to take off my wet clothes. I made a typical nube move not bringing shoes to wear around the camp site, but being the resourceful individual that I am, I tied plastic bags to my feet, and even went so far as to hopping around in a garbage bag. To be honest, the only time I left the tent was to use the luxurious portapotty and collect the pancake that the club provided for dessert. My tentmates, Michelle and Rebecca, and I were in bed by 7pm. I've never slept so hard in a sleeping bag. For a bit more description, I happened to be on the downhill slope of the tent. Though, this would have bothered me far more if it wasn't so cold. I was happy to be the bottom of the sleeping bag pile. 

In the morning, we woke up, and heard rain drops on the tent. Considering our bags were outside and there was an unescapable 5 hour walk calling our names, I can't say I was in the best of moods. Thankfully, it was a small shower that passed quickly. Despite leaving our shoes under the tents protection, they were still soaked and freezing cold. I dreaded putting them on. To my surprise, it was terrible for only about 2 minutes until my feet warmed up the shoes. I took some advil with breakfast to assure I would survive the trek back. My hips were the most sore. I have bruises where the pack straps wrap around. This was painful, but it was great to be able to put the weight onto my hips instead of my shoulders. Even after day 2, my shoulders haven't been sore at all. I thought for sure not having carried this pack before, I would have some back and shoulder aches. By about 9:30 we were on our way, the forecast looking heaps better than the previous day. After the bout through the forest, we arrived back at Gabriel's Hut and decided to check out Lake Sumner. It was BEAUTIFUL, and I felt light as a feather walking over there without my pack on. We took a few pictures, and headed back to pick up our packs and be on our way. I can honestly say, that to my surprise, I didn't mind carrying the pack, and I wasn't the slightest bit miserable on day 2. The weather was perfect! I actually TOOK OFF layers, and basked in the sunshine. Its amazing what a change in weather can do for your outlook. I could see all that the gorgeous river valley had to offer, and I was tickled pink to be there. After my thoughts the day before of never doing this again, I began to reconsider. We stopped a lot along the way for the impossible to pass up photo opportunities, and even ran into a sheep stray along the way. Also, our leader, Sasha, is a biology graduate student specializing in ecology. It was really cool to have her share random facts about our surroundings as we walked. Here's a few interesting things about NZ:
1) you can drink out of most of the streams!!!! They have mostly birds, and sand flies with the occasional deer which is considered a pest. yes, I drank from them, and no I do not have giardia yet. 
2) The beach tree's have this little bug that attaches to the bark and sends a piercing extension of it's mouth into the phloem veins of the tree. This is what transports all the nutrients around the tree. Due to the pressure of these veins, it's a force feeding of sugar for the bug that ends up filtering a good portion of it right out an anal canal where a wasp comes along and takes advantage of the "free energy". Research has shown the the bugs are not considered parasites because the trees are so efficient at photosynthesizing that their impact has almost no bearing on the tree's ability to sustain itself. In my pictures on Facebook, you'll notice they all are distinctly black. 
3) Also, the reason sand flies are named as they are is because when Cook discovered the area, he thought they looked like the sand flies in England. There are several cases just like this one where things are named based on the environment their discoverers come from. 
4) we learned all sorts of other stuff about the different trees and birds that inhabit the area, but i can't remember their names…

When we made it back to the trailhead, they let us know that the buses had not come all that way to pick us up, and we would have to start walking to the promised BBQ. Thankfully, after only about 1k, a van came by to pick us up. Its a really good thing, because little did we know, we would have been in for a 10k walk to the BBQ.  Also to be noted: when a kiwi says BBQ, they mean a sausage and piece of sandwich bread with tomato sauce and if you're lucky, some onions. The first time I heard BBQ, I was envisioning hamburgers, corn, a fruit salad etc. Its not the case here. 

After we ate, we went down to the river for river crossing training. It was good to learn about safe river crossing, and at that point the cold water felt good after the long days walk. 

The bus ride back was in and out of consciousness, and when I returned, I had dinner with Lauren, James, Tess, and James parents who are in town for a few days. We had a delicious roast chicken with all my favorite vegetables and rhubarb crisp for desert. I ate like it was the last supper. :) When I returned from dinner, I received word that one of my best friends from TCU, Maddie, had to rush home to be with one of her hometown friends, Scott, as he is battling bone cancer. I've had the pleasure of spending some time with Scott when he visited TCU, and back in Chicago with all of her hometown friends. All I can say is, if i was battling something like Scott is, I would be lucky to have the support group that I know surrounds him today. From the little bit that I've seen, they are one great group of people. While I'm certainly not as close to Scott as I was Denise, it is no easy pill to swallow dealing with the realities of this wretched disease. Please pray for Scott and his friends an family. I cannot wait for my family to get here. A giant hug is long overdue. 

Today, after some serious laundry, I read Alice in Wonderland for my children's literature class. What a triply story… I just realized I have an essay to write due next Friday on why it's a classic to children's literature.. oh joy. After class, I socialized a bit, and then headed to frisbee league. I was NOT prepared. It was extremely windy and way colder than I expected. All I had was shorts and a t-shirt…. It was still fun, but pretty discouraging. Any talent I ever even remotely thought I had was decreased 10 fold by the wind factor. Even so, I was glad to spend some time running around getting to know my teammates. Tomorrow is "training"… I've gathered that this is the equivalent to practice… i'll let ya know how it goes. Currently, I'm planning to go play in a tournament in Wellington over mid-semester break. I've heard its quite a good time!!!

And to finish off, Tess bought me flowers this evening to express her condolences for the lost of my dear friend. so thoughtful. 

PS: here's a link to the map of where I was this weekend. I think it's sort of interesting.
You can select show all huts in Lake Sumner Conservation Park as well. The huts are a great way to get around if you're traveling in groups of 7 or so (some huts house up to 40). Most supply some cooking materials, and you can make a fire inside. It would have been fantastic to go in and take off my wet clothes instead of crawling into that tent!! 

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