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Archive for February 12th, 2008

Kinloch to Routeburn Falls hut

The log book at the hut had entries from a dozen or more countries in the last two days and this evening we are sharing the back country shelters with languages from around the globe. We are trekking one of the most famous routes on the south island and we had an easy hike while accending up nearly 2000 vertical feet. Because of vastly varying terrain and the time required to cross these mountains based on skill and fitness, distances are provided but time estimates are also provided. Once you calibrate after a few sections you quickly learn what time group you are in and the time estimates are remarkable accurate. We are about 30% faster than the fastest times given and completed our first leg in about 3 hours. Not that we are rushing….we simply still hike like PCT thru-hikers.

Hut is an understatement as this is a sleeping (divided into bunk cubes) shelter built on the side of a mountain. Complete with flush toilets, propane burners, and a wood burning stove, we are certainly not roughing it by our hiker trash standards. The scenery is truly amazing with nearly vertical mountains holding glaciers above us. The forest is lush and looks like Washington’s North Cascades except the fir trees are replaced with the indigenous beech trees. The weather is remarkable with perfect blue skies that are only possible on an island at deep southern latitudes. The water flows all around us and is uber clear with a slight turquoise color; no water treatments needed – stop and drink your fill at will.

A major low pressure is predicted and we will likely see some serious weather before we finish our loop back to Kinloch in 4 days time, but for now we are enjoying paradise while protecting ourselves for the ultra violet rays that are largely unfiltered due to the ozone hole over the entire southern pole region; yes we are very far south.

Toni (our host at Kinloch) and her husband invited us over for a tea or wine the night before we left. I opted for the tea but a lot of wine was flowing. We had a grand time as old friends caught up on lives and new friends were quickly made. At one point in the evening Toni asked very bluntly: “So why are you divorced Robert”. I looked at John and we unceremoniously and with completely straight faces explained how I hiked the PCT and recognized what a wonderful, supportive, and generally great wife I had (all still true by the way). John then commented that he had identified our relationship as having “solid” fundamentals. John then explained that after returning home I learned that my wife was in involved with……the police, actually “involved” with a police…..actually a police women. Toni looked at me with deadpan shock and then looked a John who was nodding his head yes – I simple shrugged my shoulder and said “how does a guy compete with that” – Laughter broke out across the room and we all agreed that shit really does happen in life and this is what makes it so damn interesting. It got even funnier when I admitted that this was the second time “this” had happened to me. This conversation was a far cry from throwing up when I first learned that my wife of 16 years wanted a divorce.

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Kinloch – meaning head of lake in Scottish, but I am not is Scotland; rather I am in New Zealand with my tramping mate John Henzell who some of you may remember as Rolling Thunder from my 2006 PCT thru-hike Odyssey. I arrived yesterday after a long but comfortable (got an exit row) flight from San Francisco. Sheri and Cathy, my perpetual family trail angels, drove me to “the City” on Friday afternoon and I arrived in Christchurch on a Sunday morning. Upon arrival John took me to meet some “mates” at the awards ceremony for the Coast to Coast race he had just completed the previous two days. Having been nearly up all night as I crossed the Pacific and the International date line, I was little on conversation and company but enjoyed the buffet lunch accompanied by “feats” of greatness as our largely middle aged group discussed the race while shaking our heads at the winning times…..not in our best years was the often repeated comment.

Coffee as medicine – we stopped at John’s rented room and met his eclectic and full of life flat mates (everyone apparently is a mate here). In this house there is a New Zealander, an Australian, a women from Thailand, and another from Patagonia in South America. We hastily threw gear in John’s old Subaru wagon, sent an email to family and sweetheart (transitional women John would say, but I am unsure) back home, and headed south with a plan to see the penguins come ashore at dusk near the town of Oamaru (from the indigenousness Maori language). The drive south was filled with catching up on careers, lives, loves lost, potentially loves found, and mutual friends.

After paying $20nz each we walked 20 meters to a small set of grandstands over-looking a crashing surf with an old quarry site above. In the quarry were ~ 200 blue penguin nest boxes that had been constructed to facilitate greater survival rates for the world’s smallest (about 1kilo) penguins. We listened as the enthusiastic young man described the life cycle of the aquatic bird as I thought to myself – what a tourist trap, what a waste of money. Then I saw them and thought to myself – How cool is that! The birds form a “raft” (group) just off shore as a protection mechanism (strength in numbers) from sharks and other shallow water predators. Then they “try” to come ashore. I say try because a cyclone in the South Pacific had created very large surf and we watched in awe as this tiny birds were battered onto the rocks and swept repeatedly back to sea. After a time they would catch the perfect wave and swim like hell to the rocks before the backwater could over take them – ultimately they all made it in; or at least we like to think so. Upon the rocks – they would waddle. Waddle they did as their rotund bodies were stuffed from the all you can eat buffet that is the Pacific; some were so fat that that they actually fell over while they preened themselves. They socialized with each other, and ultimately went to their respective nest boxes where they regurgitated their catch for the squawking young while we looked on with agape jaws. After awhile most of the tourists left and we along with a few spell bound humans watched as several more raft came crashing ashore, preened themselves, socialized, and fed their young.

Found a Generica type of room at 10pm and passed out with jet lag.

Headed farther south on the south island and I remained somewhat unimpressed with the flat, dotted with sheep and now ever increasing bovine, landscape: “Pretty ugly country” John “yep”. Through the well heeled town of Queenstown complete with a casino and Rolls Royces, I was beginning to wonder about the supposed Island paradise. A few miles farther the Southern Alps appeared almost immediately out of the flat landscape with nearly vertical ascent to the glaciated high peaks and valleys. Their huge glaciers, fed by upwards of a hundred meters of snow annually got my attention. “Holy Crap” John “yep, that is where we are going tramping” – said with smugness that only a New Zealander could pull off while talking with an arrogant American.

We arrived at our lodge which is owned by one of John’s loves lost – long ago says he. We are quickly booked in, arranged for a trail head shuttle for the morning, and comment on the three young children at our host feet – “could have been you John” said the somewhat blushing mother “yea but that would have required me not being an asshole back then” retorted John. “True, and yet that life set you up and created the life you are living today…one that includes tramping around the mountains of the world”. Old relationship tension is a dynamic thing and when the topic moved to “remember that time in Morocco” it was time to change the subject. I mentioned the conversation to John that evening and he dismissed it quickly as nothing, yea RIGHT.

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