Lucky Girl

I finished reading Into the Wild in perfect timing, the night before my last tramp into New Zealand’s wild- this time in the less-traveled Nelson Lakes National Park, for 5-6 days, or as long as my rations would sustain me: a stack of PB&J’s, instant noodles, canned tuna, instant oatmeal, a camp stove, half a bottle of wine poured into an ex-OJ bottle, and a Snickers bar. The best part about packing a shit ton of food is that I am encouraged to eat a shit ton of food every day to reduce the amount of weight in my pack.

I used a tin can (that once contained sliced beets) as my Ramen pot

I used a tin can (that once contained sliced beets) as my Ramen pot

When I first saw the major motion picture, Into the Wild, I quickly dismissed Christopher McCandless as a cavalier, naive youth whose apparent disrespect for nature landed him in his inevitable grief. After reading the book in Jon Krakauer’s perspective, however, I couldn’t help but feel inspired by McCandless’ spirit and sense of adventure into the wild. It was a good feeling to take with me as I embarked upon my solo trek for 5 days in torrential rainstorms and strong wind into the backcountry. Needless to say, I was one of the few souls in the enormous Nelson Lakes region for the near week that I was there. And as I (and you, if you have been reading my blogs) have gathered by now, I unable to tramp without embarking on some sort of wild adventure.

I had a little company at the first two huts I stayed at on my tramp; the first night hanging out with 4 kiwi dads about my dad’s age, all with kids about my age. I kept score while they played 500 and regaled me with stories of their worldly adventures from years past. At the second hut, I was joined by an American couple that had paid several thousand dollars for a local guide to take them tramping and to cook them gourmet dishes at every hut. I sat eating my canned tuna and Ramen while their guide/cook prepared a feast of grilled salmon, couscous, and fresh local vegetables. I couldn’t resist the offerings of their culinary delights…considering I’ll even eat stale Muesli on these tramps.

The four fathers (forefathers?) at Speargrass Hut

The four fathers (forefathers?) at Speargrass Hut

Tramping alone is a magical experience but at times also scary and lonely, and can get inside one’s head- I related to Krakauer; “Because I was alone, however, even the mundane seemed charged with meaning…and my emotions were similarly amplified: the highs were highers, the periods of despair were deeper and darker…” Ironically, I had Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” stuck in my head as I tramped about the mountains. I spent two nights at 1700 meters (freezing level had lowered to 1200 meters and the heavy rains had turned to a sleeting snow) at Angelus Hut- a beautiful dwelling looking onto the pristine Angelus lake, isolated by snowcapped peaks. The second night up there I was alone, had nearly run out of gas for my stove and could not find wood dry enough to start a fire. It was freezing cold and I went to bed as soon as the sun went down at 6, alone and shrouded in my sleeping bag with only an opening for my mouth to breathe. Despite the continued inclement weather the next morning, I was anxious to get to the next hut- I was getting cabin fever and began to fear that I would be stuck if the day brought a heavy dumping of snow. It was a steep descent, crossing waterfalls and thick, surprise tree roots, but I was careful and slow, all the while trying to enjoy the Lord of the Rings experience even in the hailstorm.

Angelus Hut- my home for 2 nights

Angelus Hut- my home for 2 nights

one of the waterfalls I crossed...I definitely don't need to go bungee jumping for an adrenaline rush here

one of the waterfalls I crossed...I definitely don't need to go bungee jumping for an adrenaline rush here

I finally reached sea level after about 4 hours of knee-bending descent, and was only an hour from my intended destination when I realized I missed the turn-off to the bridge that would lead me to Lakehead hut. After having crossed about 10 rivers and streams on the tramp already, I felt capable enough to attempt the wide river crossing on foot. But as I stepped into the rushing torrent, I suddenly could not feel the bottom and realized that the river had risen tremendously over the past few days during the heavy rains. The current was too strong for me to regain my balance and my heavy pack and layered clothes were pulling me down. In full panic mode, I reached out for branches and found some to pull myself up over the riverbed- and clearly I have survived to tell the tale!

I spent one more night in the Nelson Lakes, meeting a wonderful couple at the Coldwater Hut, whose parental instincts took over as soon as they saw the soggy mess that I was.

beautiful views from Coldwater Hut

beautiful views from Coldwater Hut

Peter and Sue lent me their dry fleece clothing, fed me a warm meal, and the next morning, Peter paddled me across the river in Sue’s kayak, getting me back on the right track, “I admire your independent spurt, I really do,” he said as he sent me off. Finally I felt safe and sound; the weather had cleared up, I knew where I was going, and I was going to have a hot shower and a comfortable bed soon back in sunny Nelson. Well…not before one more “adventure”. What happened was the shuttle I reserved never picked me up and as it was getting dark, I decided to hitchike before it was too late and I was stuck. This is when I encountered my first true psycho while hitchiking, just like in the movies. I now reflect on the ride as a learning experience as how not to tip a psycho over the edge, which is what I spent seemingly eternal drive doing. Though trying to remain calm on the outside, my heart was racing on the inside and it was not until I saw the bright lights of Nelson that I was able to breathe normally again. Why this crazy man picked me up, and why/how he ended up delivering me safely to my destination I will never know. I actually really wanted to ask, but I don’t think that would have been a very good idea. Human nature is so incomprehensible sometimes. All I can say is that I am one lucky son of a bitch…errrr…daughter of a married woman.

Although I am sad to leave this beautiful, beautiful land, I feel calmed by the fact that I will no longer be drawn to the kind of adventure I have found myself slightly addicted to. I met this Russian guy in Argentina that was obsessed with near-death experiences and I really don’t want to turn into that kind of person. One can be lucky only so many times.

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~ by ceciliabien on May 2, 2009.

One Response to “Lucky Girl”

  1. i wish i was there. miss you, lil miss.

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