I am on the Naked Bus headed for my next adventure. No, I'm not naked, I'm just riding with a bunch of backpackers, headed North. I will be WWOOFing (Willing Workers On Organic Farms) with a family--who happens to own a portable rock climbing wall--for the next couple weeks. Before I get too into my upcoming plans, I want to reflect a bit on this past weekend.
Tramping through the mountains East of Auckland allowed me to see things from a whole new perspective. The first day we hiked 4ish hours up to a very exposed and somewhat "dodgy" campsite called Moss Creek. The topographical map I was lent had lines everywhere, particularly some very close together on the way up to the campsite! The next day we set off on a 5ish hour hike in the rain out, around, down, up, down, and back up to a "hut" near Pinnacles, a high point in this area with a spectacular view. The hut was warm and dry, had a kitchen, two bunk rooms with mattresses, a wood burning stove, a huge barbeque grill, and an expansive deck. Needless to say, we did not rough it the second night of our trip, however it did feel like we had earned the respite! The last day we hiked back down to the road's end, where we had started.
The hike was steeper, wetter, longer, and harder than any I had experienced in quite some time, and despite using (and very much appreciating) a loaner pair of trekking poes, my knees were not too happy with the additional weight of my pack and the constant stair-like trails. They were aching from the first day, however I think it was because of this that I had a chance to really take in my surroundings.
Having never tramped in New Zealand's "bush" before this weekend, there were lots of new things to be seen! I enjoyed noticing interesting vegetation or stopping to take in the view and snap a picture once in a while. Doing these things helped me to pace myself and enjoy my time on the trail more than I wold have otherwise.
At times, I couldn't help but think about how lucky I was to be there. Not only from a sense of being in a different country and seeing beautiul things in that country, but the physical act of being able to use the body I was given to climb mountains, navigate narrow trails, hop from log to log in a puddle of mud, or even just carry a pack on my back. I am physically able to be active and enjoy much of what life has to offer. For some people, walking across a room is an epic accomplishment that takes hard work and determination. As much respect, support, and encouragement I have for those people, it fills me with grattitude that I can do those things with ease. I can tackle mountains that seem endless and, even though I may be the last one to return to the bus, I come out feeling better because I have accomplished such a challenge!
There were many times throughout the weekend where I was walking alone. This is partially because the high schoolers on the trip didn't know me too well, partially because I was keeping a different pace from others, and partially because I enjoyed it. I was alone. In the middle of the woods. In the middle of the mountains. In the middle of New Zealand. In the midst of an adventure by myself.
By myself... That fact at times seems so important. I was watching some European backpackers interact while waiting for the bus to arrive and couldn't help but smile that I was there alone. Sure, it would be great to have friends along, but what if you get sick of them? What if your agendas don't agree? What conversations would you miss out on if you always had a friend in tow? I think the experiences available to you when traveling alone are of a different class than a fun trip with friends. Being just six days into my year long adventure, I can already appreciate the benefit s of traveling solo, and can imagine the opportunities for contemplation, reflection, independence, and growth.
In the initial exchange with Dave (Mase, as I called him in the other post) about couchsurfing with him and attending the tramp, he said if I am "quite fit" I would be welcome to come along. Not really knowing an Outdoor-Education-teaching-Kiwi's definition of "quite fit," I assumed my active lifestyle would be enough and jumped at the opportunitiy! As much as I was able to hike to our various destinations, it was a different story to try to keep up with the 17- and 18-year-olds, and their instructor who has been on more trips than even he can count! I did pretty well the first two days, even having enough energy after the second day to teach a bit of yoga to some curious students who saw me stretching out after the hike! The third day, however, was a slightly different story. The shortest hike was perhaps the hardest as sore knees do not seem to enjoy the impact of downhill climbs! I took my time, taking pictures along the way, and saw some kids from the group pass me as I went. I wasn't too concerned about this since many of them were running! (How they had enough energy for this after a weekend full of more hiking than I did--many went on a few additional excursions--I will never know!) Dave also passed me, but he is apparantly notorious for starting last and finishing near the front of a group. I even had a conversation with him as he went past about how some of his couchsurfers insist they are fit but really struggle to keep up on trips and end up just causing drama. Well, I don't think I caused any drama, but I also didn't know until I got back to the bus that I was actually the last person to return! How embarassing. Not only was I the last one, but they had all been waiting for a bit too!
Had I a little more cartilage and a little less wear and tear on my knees, I'm sure I would have been fit to keep up with everyone throughout the weekend, but I guess the thrid day of hiking in a row was a lot for me!
Perhaps this is one more reason why its so good to be here by myself. I can keep my own pace and not feel like I am holding anybody back, or feel stuck by someone else holding me back. I guess after all this rambling I've come to the point that I am happy to be alive and well and here and "fit" and active! I can't wait to take in more of New Zealand's beautiful scenery and continue to challenge myself to experience what this country has to offer!