My 26th Birthday

This year, I had an unexpectedly awesome birthday. I really had no idea what to expect, and in the end I decided that escaping up into the mountains and spending the eve of my 26th in meditative solitude would be appropriate on the dawn of my late 20’s. I caught a ride to Mt. Cook National Park on the 18th and began the steep climb up to Mueller Hut on the 19th, a rare, beautiful day with glorious sun shining down onto New Zealand’s highest peak (3754 meters), arriving in the early afternoon- plenty of time to enjoy a nice brew that I had packed with me before I was joined by a U.N.-like mix of other travelers. At sunset, we shared a tin mug of Merlot an Israeli had toted up to celebrate his last trek in New Zealand.

the light on the hike up

the light on the hike up

Mt. Cook at sunset

Mt. Cook at sunset

I had prepared for this birthday to be spent alone, but it was such a nice surprise to find new friends in these strangers that were amped up in full celebratory mood when I told them that I was born 26 years ago. We “partied” the night away (albeit sober, with no music, and with instant pasta noodles instead of birthday cake) amid the mountains and shooting stars, under the Southern Cross. The next morning one of the German girls lit a candle and sang me the German happy birthday song (which is actually a lot nicer than the trademarked American one).

the International Mueller Hut crew: 1 Israeli, 1 kiwi, 1 American, 2 Germans

the International Mueller Hut crew: 1 Israeli, 1 kiwi, 1 American, 2 Germans

April 20th itself was quite a crazy day, beginning with the steep descent through thick fog. I started immediately after sunrise as my knee has still cramping and I knew it would take me longer to reach the bottom than it would for the others. All ended well and I was showered and ready to begin the long 422 km hitchiking adventure to Christchurch by 2:30. I essentially spent my entire birthday hitchiking 3 different legs to Christchurch in a record 5 hours time.

beautiful scenic backdrop for the hitchiking adventure

beautiful scenic backdrop for the hitchiking adventure

Hitchiking can be pretty frustrating and at times, simply annoying. I’ve seen a lot of couples drive by slowly, about to pick me up until the wife in the passenger’s seat shakes her head at her husband who horse-whipped, obeys and drives on, avoiding eye contact. Strangely, all three of my lifts on this particular journey were from Kiwi women: the first was an older adventurer who had seen her fair share of hitchiking days and had just celebrated her 61st birthday two days before me. The second ride came from a 23-year-old straight-edge death metal goth chick who was born and bred on the South Island (and had never left), who drove me an epic 3 hours in a 1990 Nissan that operated on Diesel fuel. We had little in common but it was fun hearing about the straight-edge things she and her trenchcoat-mafia friends did for shenanigans in their free time, such as hitchiking races across New Zealand. She dropped me off an hour outside of Christchurch. By now the sun had set and it was raining lightly- the worst combination for hitchiking karma: everyone is scared of a hitchiker in the dark and no one wants to get their car wet inside. I stood in the light of a Petrol station in a tiny one-horse-town, with my thumb out, laughing on the inside at what a day it had turned out to be, but also a little  scared and praying to the high heavens that a kind soul would take pity on a cold, tired, drenched little girl. And someone did! Leanne was a 36-year-old country girl going through somewhat of a midlife crisis; falling for all the wrong guys, hating her job, feeling miserable and stuck, but too comfortable with her secure lifestyle to change anything. I spent the last hour of my journey in her car urging her to leave and travel- she nearly cried and told me I was her inspiration…we bonded and hugged and I was glad to offer something back to this kind woman who had rescued me from the night and brought me to the door of my hostel.

By this time, I was full fledged-ly crazy in my head after a tumultuous (but kind of fun) day. All I wanted to do was eat a massive feast and pass out. But again, to my un-expectations, I came across some good company and had a nice celebration with two less-than-24-hour-friends.

what I cooked for myself in classic NZ fashion: Venison sausage, Kumara potato, with a side of pasta, India Pale Ale, and 420 herb

what I cooked on 4.20 for myself in classic NZ fashion: Venison sausage, Kumara potato, with a side of pasta, India Pale Ale, and 420 herb

Birthdays are kind of strange- as my friend Gillian put it, they are universal but also so personal. I had intended to use this unique experience of solo traveling on my birthday to reflect on these formative years, but was pleasantly surprised at the turnout of wonderful people I met from all over the world in just a day who insisted on celebrating. It was a reassuring feeling of humankind(ness) in the company of strangers who suddenly felt like close friends, all enthusiastic and generous about sharing this day with me. Certainly a birthday I won’t ever forget!

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~ by ceciliabien on April 21, 2009.

One Response to “My 26th Birthday”

  1. amazing. i thought of you so much yesterday!!! i’m glad it turned out to be such a wonderful day for you. i cant wait til we can celebrate your birthday together again!!

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