Me: “Babe, I’m like a cast iron pan. It just gets better. I can’t use soap I’m poreous.”
Boyfriend leaves the room.
Boyfriend: “I know you don’t want a birthday present, but what if I got you something to organize your maps in, you know like an adult?
Boyfriend: “You keep them in a garbage bag.”
Me: “It’s an adult garbage bag. It clearly says, WARNING: TO AVOID DANGER OF SUFFOCATION KEEP THIS BAG AWAY FROM BABIES AND CHILDREN.”
I was on the side of the trail eating a premade packaged white bread sandwich that sticks to the top of your mouth. To avoid choking and dieing I took a packet of mayonaise and was liberally smiring it with my dirt encrusted finger over each individual bite.
Me: “You guys, back home this would be gross, but out here it’s totally cool.”
My buddy: “No it’s still gross.”
After that I got the name nickname Mogely.
As in the main character of The Jungle Book.
Me facetiming my Dad under a bridge with a bunch of other thru hikers.
Me: “Hey Dad! I made it to the bridge, and I found a random cooler of budweiser under here, I grabbed one it’s amazing.”
I throw the camera around for my Dad to see all the other sweaty beardy thru hikers sitting around on their packs drinking.
Dad: “That looks like a homeless camp.”
Me: “Yeah it basically is.”
I was standing on the side of the road in Warner Springs attempting to hitch hike to San Diego. A car stopped offering me a ride. I gratefully accepted. I smelt terrible. I hadn’t showered in 5 or 6 days and had been hiking 8-10 hours everyday in the desert. I opened the car door.
Me: “Thank you so much! I smell really bad, just so you know.”
Driver: Oh it’s okay, I’m a PCT hiker I totally get, it’s not a thing.”
I sit down and put my seat belt on.
Driver looked stunned.
“Oh yup, okay we’ll just unroll these windows a little…”
I always carry a tampon sword with me when I hike.
It’s really just a knife the size of a tampon, but tampon sword sounds more intimidating.
I’ve pulled the blade out many times on animals, but never used the weapon. On shopping, my thought was, “I just need a dagger big enough to slit a throat.” I ended up with an ultralight 1 inch extremely sharp knife, however, I am always reminded of how teeny it is when I open it to a threat. I feel like whenever I whip it out I should preface that the knife looks smaller because it’s cold outside.
I also pack bear spray and a plan of attack. You can’t pull some hero maneuver crap out of your pocket when crisis happens without any thought of how to handle it before. Have you ever done an interview without practicing? You sit down and your mouth dries up and you can’t speak, or that hole in your jaw becomes the outlet for a volcano of oral defecation splattering the employer’s face with words that aren’t answering the question. You desperately dig thru the dusty boxes in the attic of your mind searching for grand stories where you overcame adversity, but instead all you find is old crusty stuffed animals and baby clothes your parents are still holding on to hoping you’ll decide to spawn kids.
My plan against creatures that want to kill me: 1.) Try not to shit my pants. 2.) Shit pants. 3.) Discharge bear spray. 4.) Release tampon sword and cut throat or eyes of animal. 5.) Punch animal in the nose and use my 10 foot tall, bullet proof body to jump on back of the beast and choke forest lurker to death. 6.) Die or change my pants.
I don’t know if I could take down a cougar, but don’t tell me that. I’m a fairly confident person until I am taken down by a pickle jar with a tight lid at home. Then my cat stares disapprovingly at me naked trying to pry the lid and I remember I don’t have a cat and things get weird, and I am still naked.
I am not capable of all impossible things, only the important ones. I just hope I don’t stumble across a cougar with a pickle jar. Then I’m screwed.
The desert was thick with heat, and existed two feet below my shoes as I flew over it through the air, not entirely sure why I was airborne.
I only knew I feared for my life which sent my body flailing into space.
It was midday on the PCT in Southern California, and at this point I was seriously in the zone. Head down. Meditative. Speed walking the 17-27 miles I was putting in each day of the trip. Extensive spans of time were completely lost on me, much like when you drive for hours and realize you don’t remember the last thirty minutes.
My body subsisted on autopilot; my mind however, stayed focused on a hardcore salty audio book written by a Navy Seal with the volume on low, so I would hear my surroundings. I still felt like the writer was yelling at me however, making me feel like I’d never accomplished anything in my soft, shitty life.
Well, more like he inspired me, which brought me to feeling sorry for myself but I don’t want to take responsibility for my own feelings.
Kick my verbal ass stranger. Fuck yeah. I love books like this.
His words pierced my fucking heart leaving a trail of blood on the soil behind me. My feet ate the path, my brain fully consumed with the book, speed-hiking imagining crazy things I could take on. All these men pushed their bodies through seal school- What could I do with my body that I hadn’t tried yet? I should go through some hardcore academy somewhere to test myself! Yeah, the next G.I Jane! I imagined doing tons of burpies and pull ups and maybe even shaving my head.
I was a sleeping walking human pistol with a trigger I had never pulled! I would accomplish all the aspirations of my entire being! Today I would leave my flaccid worm of a body behind and become the 6 packed stair case of a female bitch that shits out muscle!
My legs sped up from under me. I was a raging breathing brick wall capable of eating a chain link fence and climbing Mount Everest with my tongue.
“WHAT ARE YOU CAPABLE OF MOTHERFUCKER?!”
And at that moment, I stepped within approximately 1 foot of an enormous diamondback rattlesnake.
I remember hearing a screeching rattle and before I realized what happened, my body soared into the air like a flying squirrel on amphetamines.
In my time off the ground (because this seemed to last for a while), I struggled to find my place in the atmosphere and out of my day dream, contemplating why my boots were not on the ground anymore, but pretty sure it had to do with a behemoth black snake somewhere below me. I think I saw it throw its body back preparing to strike, but, did it? All the rattlesnakes I had seen were brown; was it actually a rattler? I remained in the air and it occurred to me that I may need to figure out a landing plan.
I glanced down.
Nah, I still had time.
Did it try to bite me and miss?
I hit the ground hard, sliding down a hill, towards a ravine littered with the skeletons of fallen trees.
My shoes gouged the dust in vain, slipping out from under me, requiring my arms to catch me.
WHERE DID IT GO?
My head shot up surveying the ground around me. I landed around 5 feet below the trail, so I couldn’t see shit; even if the snake left a pile of it.
I ripped out my headphones. Time to stop listening to others lives and start living my own gnarly story.
The atmosphere returned to silence. Gingerly I began fumbling over logs and shrubs back to the route, cresting through the brush 10 feet from the almost murder scene.
Son of a bitch if my memory didn’t win a participation award.
The monster of a rattlesnake lay coiled in a mass of scaly muscle where I left it, slipping its thin forked tongue out of its skull focused on me.
The legless tube panther filled out a 3 inch thick body and appeared to have never missed a meal in its life.
I’ve come with in feet of stepping on rattlers before, but never been basically on top of one, let alone the king shit of steroid shooting gym rats this one looked to be. He must have been reading the same book as me.
Strong work fella.
I wasn’t anywhere near…well…anything; no roads or trail heads around and if my leg were bit, I would have had to press my SOS button on my tracking device, praying the helicopter got to me in time before I lost my leg.
Turning down the trail, I shut off my audio book for the rest of the evening. I had overdosed on adrenaline and hardcore shit for one day.
The author would call me a pussy, and I am okay with that, because the thought of a vagina flapping through the air over a rattlesnake is way more entertaining than anything I heard in that book.
Long distance backpacking turns us into children. Every day is exciting and new. I’ll hike well into the night under my headlamp because I don’t want to sleep yet because I’m stoked about what might be around the corner! Then I lay in my bag exhausted eager about waking up early.
Back home I can’t wait to go to bed in the evening and it’s not as thrilling to get up with the sun.
I guess when we become adults we decide being unconscious is better than living. Out in the woods my imagination runs wild with the animals I may wander into, and the experiences I may endure.
Back home, the imagination app on my brain blends in again and I forget I can use it.
Much like the gym membership I pay for every month.
“What’s your favorite color?” a child will ask. “Green.” A stranger will answer. “Mine too, lets be friends.”
On longer trails, hikers become instant friends over a story in passing. You’ll go days without seeing each other after the single exchange, and when you cross paths again weeks later it’s like you’re old elementary school friends joyfully telling each other about what happened in their absence, maybe even share some of your favorite snack.
Hot Legs and I met Brian and Julie walking north on the JMT, about twenty miles from the Muir Trail Ranch. We hiked into the evening, a favorite time of ours. Less heat and crowds, more sunsets and wildlife. Brian and Julie stood off to the right of the route cleaning up camp before they retired into their tent which was already fixed in the middle of their site. “Wow you guys are out late!” Brian chimed in through a smile in his short beard. He was about 5’8 foot with brown hair and a medium build. His wife smiled and greeted us. We laughed while we shared our hardships and discoveries with our two new friends. They also headed north with the plan to finish in Yosemite. Both were upbeat and vibrant beings with the same optimistic vibes we we pumped out. “We should all meet at Vermillion Valley Ranch tomorrow!” We decided. They agreed if they could make the miles they would love to grab a beer with us, and we said goodbye.
The next afternoon, Hot Legs and I veered left off the JMT on the Bear Ridge route which ended on a road by Lake Thomas A Edison, where we hitchhiked with a young couple to Mono Hot Springs. We stuffed our faces full of Elk Burger at the restaurant on site and through back some suds while I simultaneously tried to help a strange drunk patron pull a fish hook out of his ear, because why not?
I was unsuccessful but he bought me a drink so we’ll call it a win. After we paid our bill we left the joint turning down the front steps into the parking lot. “Hey, is that Brian?” She asked with squinted eyes in the direction of the outdoor seating area. I eagerly spun around. He was far enough away that it took me a moment to process. “Yeah it is!” “Brian!” We yelled with familiarity. He immediately turned and spotted us. “Brian!” We waved excitedly. “Girls?!” “Hey!!” We wailed and thru our hands into the air. “Girls!” In a hast he dropped what he was doing, exited the restaurant and rushed to join us in the lot. “Brian!” We both shouted as he quickly jogged towards us and embraced both of us in a big family hug. He pulled away and smiled. “I’m not Brian” the man said through a flirtatious grin. My smile morphed in joyful confusion. What did he mean he wasn’t Brian? I examined his face closer. It wasn’t Brian. Hot Legs and I gawked as Fake Brian giggled, and darted back into the eatery.
Turns out on the trail we were also more likely to take candy or hugs from strangers. Just like children.
My phone has the Covids and wont sent pics to my blog so lets pretend it’s the 90’s and use our imagination…
So no shit, there I remained; the only survivor standing next to the Wilkin River.
Perhaps because no one else was around; that is of course unimportant and makes my above statement less impressive.
I had just ripped myself from the merciless grip of the water escalator and my left foot writhed with an attention seeking pain of a dull knife rammed into the thin flesh of my arch. When I am injured badly, I want physical evidence to prove my affliction. The only trophy I held for this mishap came in the form of a light bruising on the soft tissue, and a limp someone might’ve taken as a token of my having lived in Tacoma.
I stood over my traitor of a foot, shaming it rather than mothering it.
What had I done?
I didn’t recollect any physical trauma during the river crossing, however, I was slammed with a torrent of adrenaline; perhaps the masked burglar of my memory. For all I recall, I was William Wallace riding his horse into freedom across the river, and in no frame of this beautiful moment did I remember the hairy animal leaning down and biting my fucking foot off. Shit man, I was in New Zealand; It would take more than a small machete in my limb to keep me from thriving! The Siberia Hut sat only 2 hours away, in a lush basin with craggy mountain views that would make your Grandfather cry.
Your grandfather is John Muir by the way.
I had to make it.
With a fat sigh, I took a step to assess the damage to the machine.
I was working a light stagger.
For a moment, I took a gander through my Rolodex of what to do, which I found buried in any and all new information I had received in my brain since the last time I used it. I recalled the old narcotics I had from my collar bone surgery a couple years back which I kept ina first aid kit in the pouch labeled, “Take when some warrior tries to submit William Wallace’s foot on his God damn horse crossing the Wilkin River.”
Without further thought, I hound dogged my way deep into my pack to my zip lock baggy full of assorted medications and stole a pain medication out of the bag when no one was looking.
This would be my salvation.
I thru it back with a 16-year scotch that didn’t exist in my realm, so I chugged some water instead; the clear alternative. A 20 mile day on a stool pigeon foot was a budget experience compared to my grandiose plans of anything other than that. Luckily I could take a plane back if I couldn’t walk the next day, as many tourists were dropped off at the hut by air because they didn’t want to role-play a Scottish knight through the freak waters of hell on an invisible animal car that eats their foot during the first war of the Scottish Independence.
It’s like my old co-worker used to say, “If you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying.”
…And then they fired him.
Honest moment: I drank a couple of whiskeys this evening, and I am feeling that my words have chewed through their leash and are currently running far ahead of me. Don’t worry, I am in no hurry to catch them.
So there I am; was. Was? Yes. There I was, pill in the belly and ready to take on the fucking continent of New Zealand with my Judas foot and passion that could fill a whole lake full of GHB, (if you haven’t read my previous posts then go on and think I am a lake rapist, that’s your own damn fault, keep up).
Too impatient to wait for the loving hug of my meds to kick in, I headed for the Siberian Hut, or what I perceived to be towards it. For 40 minutes I paced back and forth along the bank like a dog on its bed trying to find a good place to lay down. I couldn’t find the route using my map or GPS; both lead me into a hair ball of bush covering the asshole of the Earth.
Asshole of the Earth= “Any opening in the woods that I believe is a trail, but turns out to be an asshole.”
With conviction and lack of patience I decided to moose it, raging forward bushwhacking through the brush concluding that at some point I would intersect the pathway which lie somewhere perpendicular to my large rack.
Eventually after stampeding the wall of infinite shrubbery, the barrier of incalculable frustration; I finally came mouth-to-mouth with what appeared to be the trail. I am not sure how I recognized I was mouth-to-mouth but that sounds better than saying mouth-to-asshole of the Earth, so I’m gonna stick to that.
I stepped out of the underbrush on to the path; my body harpooning the Moby Dick of my 45 minute excursion.
Fucking whales, am I right?
Full of exuberant joy, which may have been falsely appearing through the new eyes of a patient on pain meds, I slammed my painless feet into the packed soil. The proverbial knife had been pulled out, and my glass was half full of whatever the metaphor stands for. I suppose that would change if my glass were half full of shit because then I would want that half empty, I don’t need to smell anymore bad smells, getting out of bed and attempting to survive creates enough for me.
Damn alcohol sure has a way of making a short story long doesn’t it? Hell I should have drug all these stories out into a box set of novels and put two vampires humping on the front and made my millions. Alas, I am just a dirt squirrel who knows nothing about long novels, especially romantic ones. In fact, if you ask me what romance means to me, it’s my boyfriend offering to check me for ticks – and maybe one night of wine and Tiger King.
A few hours passed ascending switch backs and in sometime I emerged out of the tangled bush under a darkening sky in a deep emerald valley; The basin floor, a sprawling meadow split down the middle by a slithering stream. Across the water, I noticed a long strip of damaged grass which I took as a sign of recent tourist planes.
The route curved with the natural arch of the stream and as I rounded the bend, a white wooden structure with a metal roof graced my peripherals. I maneuvered words around in my mind, thinking of how best ask if they had any beds left. The young ranger, a granola women of her late twenties, greeted me at the deck, and agreed to exchange three of my hut tickets (5 dollars each) for a bed. Very graciously, I thanked her, and clambered up a set of stairs to the porch, dropping my belongings and peeling off my rank, wet shoes. Multiple hikers were gathered at the picnic tables outside where I sat, and an older kiwi gentleman took to questioning my whereabouts that day. I tried to portray humbleness, as I figured some people around me had flown in and didn’t backpack 20 miles that day to earn their bed, but still the man appeared shocked and amazed by the few words I handed over to describe my days journey.
“You crossed the WILKIN?” he exclaimed, mouth open.
“WONDER WOMAN!” he cried.
I left amused and embarrassed to make my bed, which required the shaking of my sleeping bag out on to a hefty furnished ground pad. The cushion lie 3-5 inches from the other pads on either side, and I truly hoped my unconscious body would cancel the regularly scheduled sympathy of horn sections in my throat later that evening. I had been practicing all my life, and still all who hear this beautiful flesh music are never impressed.
I am told there is an app that will record my snoring, but I refuse to do this. It’s easier believing everyone else is lying. Plus, what I do in my sleep is none of my business. I’m unconscious for a reason.
I don’t want to listen to it either.
I returned to the deck which supplied majestic views of the neighboring mountains and sat with the kiwi I previously spoke of. He lead a discussion with a couple from Australia who shared their whiskey with us. My new friend boasted about my trip to the Australians, and they enthusiastically inquired about it, placing me on a pedestal which I quickly fell off of as soon as I opened my mouth. This was followed by a discussion of the differences between the words we use in our separate countries.
Presumably because whiskey.
Kiwi man: “We don’t call it hiking we call it tramping.” Me: “You also say bush instead of forest. In America bush is another word for pubic hair, and tramping means having sex with lots of people. Kiwi man: “…I’m never saying it like that again.”
I imagine there are more appropriate and thoughtful conversations I could partake in with strangers, but then I would have had nothing to write about in the above paragraph.
The next morning, I was reduced to a one legged mountain pirate. Sans parrot, which was hardly fair. My left foot had swelled up and I could barely walk, proving to be quite disagreeable considering I had planned another 20 mile day. The reality was crushing, eroding my enthusiasm and energy. I had traveled all the way to New Zealand and for the second time, my backpacking plans were diluted. I found solace in the gratitude of being able to hitchhike with a plane back to my car. Nowhere in Washington State could I get injured and flown out by plane without having to call a SAR team. Granted, I might have clawed myself the 20 or so miles out of there, but it would have taken a very long time, and the rest of the Australisn’s booze.
I shuffled out to the porch pathetically to replace my raunchy moist shoes on my feet and was greeted by the kiwi.
“Wonder woman!” he yelled.
I smiled weakly, although I didn’t feel I deserved the title.
With ridiculous effort, I hobbled the quarter mile back to where I had spotted the air strip, however, I had forgotten that the landing zone was on the opposing side of the stream.
I was not fit for fording another waterway. There was however, a helicopter landing on this side of the water; it would be coming before the the plane but cost a lot more money.
I crumpled down into the dew covered weeds knowing I would have to pay for the helicopter, and played my ukulele to lift my mood while waiting.
I imagine I probably looked like a sad ugly Tiny Tim.
Two young men walked up during my funeral symphony for my foot as I was lowering the coffin. They were looking to hitch as well and asked if I was the girl who did the crazy trek the day before. This brightened my spirits.
From my seat in the grass I watched the two cross the stream, and the current did not appear to cause them any problems. Just then I heard a plane in the distance, which I found odd, as the plane was supposed to come after the helicopter. I spied the air craft flying over head circling to land. I could leave now and save tons of money, if I was able to make it across.
I climbed to my feet and did my best impression of a three-legged dog staggering with one leg and my trekking poles in the direction of the stream. The men saw my struggle on the other side and offered to come out into the water and help me, but pride hears no one but its self. I charged into the current, and to my relief the ford wasn’t half as difficult as the previous day.
I hopped on the aircraft and for 30 dollars I caught a ride all the way back to my car. I was disappointed to end the backpacking portion of my time in New Zealand, but I knew that reminiscing over my ailment would spoil what would continue to be an amazing trip.
In the last few days of my trip, I stayed at a Hot Springs resort, took a cruise around Milford Sound, and went cage diving in the ocean with a great white shark and somehow didn’t piss my wetsuit.
I convinced myself over the years that I was an apex predator, but once I starred down the jaws of a great white, I found that I was just a small awkward goat.
The cage diving experience was one of the most incredible experiences, and it would not have happened if I didn’t get my foot viciously gnawed off by a non existent horse.
A glass half full makes life abundant. Especially if the glass is half full of whiskey.
With the magnificent strength of a stoned beached sea lion, I pulled myself from my bunk at Top Forks Hut in Mount Aspiring National Park, discreetly sequestering my hiking paraphernalia to head out for a 20-mile day. The dirt path was veiled by the cold shadows of glaciated mountains which stood as chaperons spying in on my field trip, and hovering over the valley as massive rock fences dividing the land.
The frigid air pierced my hands like syringes.
Raynaud’s disease is an icy bitch.
The wooden signs on the trail which indicated direction, did not speak in kilometers or miles; they spoke in time. For example, the sign would state, “Carol Baskins Lake, 3-4 hours”, with an arrow pointing you towards your vision quest path of exploration.
I could call it a trail, but vision quest path of exploration sounds more majestic.
The route passed several lakes, ending at Lake Castalia, which appeared as a carved stone bowl full of bright blue liquid.
I tried to come up with a bright blue liquid to describe the water in a clever way, so out of curiosity I put the words in a search engine. The website came up with, GHB, the date rape drug.
“Lake Castalia, which appeared as a carved stone bowl full of date rape drugs”, seemed somewhat aggressive.
The trail grabbed roots climbing into the forest, crossing multiple streams that devoured my feet alive and spit them out frozen and half dead back onto sub alpine vegetation.
I passed the stagnant Lake Diana, which gave way to a flooded swamp I had to ford like a bipedal alligator.
After my terrible impression of an alligator, I wandered through a vast grassland, full of tall biting weeds, moist with dew and drooling all over my legs, like a gorgeous plant dog park.
The trail split, and to the left I found Lake Lucidus, a moraine lake surrounded by hefty boulders shit out by glaciers. It was a regal, foggy blue due to the rock flour suspended in it, ground from the teeth of glaciers above.
I caught the right fork of the trail after, which pulled my body up through absurdly royal scenery causing me to laugh out loud like a crazed person who just won the lottery.
I believe there is a feeling tied to this- Something like joy.
The final push to Lake Castalia involved numerous river fords and scrambling up loose boulders; a toll to weed out the weak.
Castalia was a gem on a beach of stones.
The water was illuminated bright blue (all the date rape drugs), and sat deep under a ring of mountains capped by glaciers.
Of course my picture looks like shit, but if you google the lake, everyone else has managed to take pictures that got them laid on Instagram.
I paused for a moment, snacking on the inspiring view; a fertilizer for my brain. After licking the plate of spirituality clean, I traveled back towards the hut to gather the non-essential day hiking gear I had left that I wouldn’t need in a mountain zombie attack or last minute heist.
On the jaunt back, I noticed an odd warm sensation in the skin of my legs, and a redness spreading over them, which I attributed to an STD from the wet grass molesting me all morning . By the time I arrived at the hut however, my skin stretched and tightened around my upper legs, attempting to find their capacity for inner filling, like when you squeeze a swollen sausage and stop right before the meat bursts through a split in the lining.
This proved to be too exciting to keep moving, and my eyes dropped to investigate. I mean, who doesn’t love a good sausage.
To my surprise, I was covered in hives. How amusing.
I was only allergic to soy, shell fish and penicillin.
Perhaps I had rubbed up against an elusive shell fish bush?
I feel like I would have smelt it.
I followed the track 10 miles or so back to Kern Forks Hut, itching my swollen legs and obsessing over the dangerous Wilkin River crossing where the drunk Uber ship had dropped me off the day before. The water was deeper and faster than anything else I had attempted other than the Makaroa River, which was a bust.
The failure to execute would require a night’s stay and expensive boat ride the next day when they released hikers on shore; this was not the option of choice. I wanted to make a successful ford, so I could finish the loop up to Siberian Hut, climbing up to Crucible Lake, and cruising out the Blue Pools track. Sometimes my need for triumph concerns me, and I have to remind myself that no one is immune from accidents. Not even this fake hero.
At Kern Forks, two young men sat on the front porch shoveling food into their mouth holes. The shorter of the two boasted that he forded the stream within the past hour, while his friend admitted he was too afraid and waited for the jet boat to show up and take him across.
I missed the boat.
I always knew I was a unicorn.
“Where did you cross?” I asked relieved that it was possible. “Above the fork.” He instructed. “I would find another spot, the water rose up to my chest there.” He warned.
I studied the man. He was quite a bit shorter than me, hopefully giving me a tall woman at a concert’s advantage.
“Well, if you see my body floating down stream, you’ll know I didn’t make it.”
We laughed anxiously, and I walked away.
Humor in the face of fear. What a fantastically cheap mask.
The Wilkin River spilled out before my feet, flowing from my left side to my right. I considered the subtle movements of the water caressing the stones beneath it with dominant grace, like Godzilla petting a kitten. My eyes rolled over the currents as I paced the bank, evaluating the risk with deep intensity.
My eyebrows furrowed. I wasn’t worried about drowning necessarily, I figured if I slipped I would rip my arms from my back and swim to the closest side. The problem with losing my pack however, was that my Garmin Inreach (a tracking device my family back home used to pin point my location), would float down the river with the pack and lead my loved ones to believe I died.
That would prove to be unpleasant.
My lack of passport would also verify my unfortunate displeasure.
I re homed my cellphone and Inreach into the dry sanctuary of my bag in an attempt to keep them safe if my bag went under. These movements were powerful. I watched my hands work meticulously, like they belonged to someone else. No way did I plan to be washed down stream, so why was I preparing for it?
Because, it could happen.
The line I choose to traverse, proved to be the same course the previous man had chosen; the shallowest and widest spot, allowing the current to spread out over a larger surface area.
Time to grab my gourd and ford.
-Wow, I wrote that statement above after some wine last night. That’s embarrassing.
I threw my pack on leaving the waist strap unclipped so it would slide easily off me if I were pulled under. Stomping out aggressively, I invaded the thin layer of water allowing the hellish liquid to fill my shoes.
I marched out in my rage against the barrier and water crept up my ankles, my knees and next, my thighs.
The success of my efforts unfolded as the water gave way to my plan, and a small flicker of new self-confidence took light in my soul; until the ground sank from below me and drown the flame.
My body lowered into the water as if I had stepped off a stair bringing rippling water up to the bottom of my backpack and slapping my chest.
I took a couple more carefully placed steps, fighting the substantial massacre of water aiming to rip me under.
This was it. The moment I needed to admit defeat, but it was too late.
My right foot ripped out from under me, yielding to the crushing weight in front of it.
Flooded with dread, I slammed my trekking pole deep into the water, leaning on it as an extension of myself. Core engaged and arms heaving into my poles I caught my balance. I declared myself winner of the tug of war pulling my foot with tremendous deliberation, shoving my toes deliberately into the rocks below.
I turned to my left unemotionally deserting my journey for the Siberian Hut and searched over the invisible path I had taken.
The bank loomed far away. I peered over my right shoulder glancing at the original finish line.
I stood in the middle of the river.
It made no difference if I turned around, the depth of the water remained the same 5 feet in either direction.
I needed to move; the water sloshed up under my ribs and I didn’t know how much longer I could stay in the bizarre statue I had found myself in, frozen, as if maybe the river wouldn’t know I was there if I didn’t move.
One heavy step at a time, I maneuvered myself through the exhausting current. Gradually I felt the water loosen its death grip down my thighs, to my knees and then my feet.
I made it.
I MADE IT.
I yanked my cold drenched body upon the opposite shore and hurled my pack to the ground for a wild and sobering celebration.
“YAAAAAAYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY” I wailed, jumping up and down and throwing my arms around like a wacky waving inflatable tube man. “YAYYYYYYYYYYY I MADE IT!!! OWEEEEEE. OWE. OUCH!”
My party ended before I could stamp the invitations.
The arch of my left foot lit up with a sharp pain I can only characterize as incredibly unfair. There I was celebrating my incredulous journey, and my foot had to fuck it all up.
I suppose when you spend most of your time walking all over something it will retaliate at some point.
I shifted my weight to my right and sunk my rump down on a rock. This was the same peculiar ache I had felt during my last trip. I had hiked 20 miles that day as well, and by the end of the day I limped and the next day I walked normally.
I loaded the jet boat to Kern Forks Hut, where I would start my epic trek in Mount Aspiring National Park, NZ. The slim boat split the Makaroa River, submitting water to both sides of the metal bow as we plowed upstream. The surge hardly appeared deep enough for a boat, but the long haired man driving seemed to think so. He looked like a surfer who loved pizza and said “bro” a lot, but who knows, maybe he was a wine drinking pianist, who murdered his parents and practiced archery.
The joy of strangers. You just never know.
We flew over the tributary into Wilkin River with incredible speed. We were in video game, with objects being created before our eyes, almost out pacing the game’s capacity to create the future. The captain weaved in and out of small junctions in the river; an aggressive car passing in traffic.
During this aqua serpentine I experienced the lovely gift of questioning my mortality.
With the confidence of a drunk man, the guide spun the steering wheel as we approached a right turn; too fast and too soon. I braced my body as the back of the vessel fish tailed turning 90 degrees skidding over the water heading straight for a massive log jam. In the few seconds that followed , it occurred to me that our speed did not decrease, and this could prove to be very unfortunate for the body I had invested in all these years. I didn’t realize death was included in the price of the ride, perhaps that’s why the ticket cost a small tiger. My eyes snapped on the guide, throwing his hands around the steering wheel in an attempt to tame the bull he rod.
But the bull had the him by the balls.
The distance between the deadly wood pile closed in and I envisioned my body being thrown from the craft; a catapulted rag doll attempting to fly.
Without thinking, I squeezed my eyes shut.
Bizarre that we close our eyes when we get scared and need them most. I suppose our eyelids are the blanket a child covers its self with to become “invisible.”
It is because my eyes remained closed, that I am not immediately certain of what developed in the next moment.
I wasn’t an airborne flying squirrel yet, which on the flip side was a disappointment because with these high cheek bones I’d have the space for at least two winters worth of food at anytime. Food breeds friends. I’d be famous. The critics would think it was nuts.
I opened my eyes and to my bewilderment, the log jam disappeared behind us.
Baffled, I glanced around at the other passengers to validate my feelings.
They laughed and smiled.
The driver did it on purpose, for amusement.
Just saying, I mean, every time I pretend I am going to kill a stranger-
Just kidding, WHY WOULD YOU EVER DO THAT.
The ride continued for another 15 minutes of pretending to crash while I held on; a cat clawing the rim of a bathtub.
I suspect it comes down to control. I love scary shit, so long as the scary shit doesn’t fall under the category of someone else being in control over whether I live or not.
Evil Knievel pulled off to the right side of the waterway letting backpackers out who planned on hiking to Siberia Hut, then carried myself and a man my age with light red hair to the other side. I had spoken with Red Head in the field where we left our cars; he had a similar itinerary as I. He leapt off the water taxi, dropped his pack and shuffled through his gear. I didn’t want to play leap frog with him, so I zoomed off to get a head start.
I stopped at Kern Forks Hut and hurried to play Tetris with my belongings trying to leave before Red Head wandered up. I was not successful. He hiked up to the hut grinning widely. We made small talk, which lasted longer than I expected and I wondered why he decided to waste precious time he could be hiking.
He was waiting.
I tested this theory by stepping off the front steps.
He stepped off too.
Okay. He didn’t look like too much of a serial killer.
I guess we were walking in the wilderness together.
I moved with a purpose and he kept up with me. To my surprise I began to enjoy the company, as I had deprived myself of human interaction in the past weeks. Being a kiwi, he spoke with a heavy accent that sometimes preceded my ability to understand words.
Or this was a subconscious excuse for going deaf.
He had a small child and a girlfriend he wanted to be with forever, but never marry. He shot weddings for years as a photographer and felt like he would be in work mode at his own wedding. Respect. I had never heard that excuse before.
“Is it true in America, that people go on dates all the time?” He inquired.
“Yeah. Dating apps are a big deal back home.”
“Man, in New Zealand you have to really like someone to ask them out. By the end of the first date your basically taking them back to meet your parents.”
In America if you really like someone you take them back and show them how your parents made you.
We talked over the differences in our countries healthcare and leaders. I really enjoyed the discussion; not that I had much to add to it, considering I don’t own a T.V, but the comradery was appreciated. After ping ponging conversation for 2 hours, he admitted he was tired, and getting over a cold, so he was going to walk slower and I’d see him later at the hut.
“I feel like we’re breaking up!” he cried.
“And I was gonna have my parents meet us at the hut..” he lowered his head feigning a deep sadness.
I pushed on ahead through the dark mossy forest, which faded like a bad hair cut into fields of tall grass along the shallow river.
The route was flooded, and my feet were being swallowed whole by the mouths of mud puddles hidden in the hair ball of weeds which crowded the path. I remembered a man on the death ship advising me to hike in the river rather than the trail; that it was less elevation, and easier than the marsh. At the time this sounded ridiculous. Why would I park my car on a highway to swim up a stream instead?
The trail was overgrown; a hairy slop of a foot path. I considered the idea with increased interest. Tromping out of the swampy grassland I investigated the river. He was right.
I waded up the river bed, crossing the smaller forks searching for the path of the least resistance. The water was a soothing relief from the abusive flogging I received from the waist high weeds.
High fives for boundaries. #SELFLOVE
Just kidding, we all know I treat my body like trash can. Sometimes I feed it, sometimes I take it out, but usually I ignore it until it starts to smell.
After another hour or so, I could see Top Forks Hut sitting in an enchanting green meadow overlooking the water. I figured I would stop for a moment, eat a snack and continue to one of the lakes beyond, because why not keep walking until you die?
I noticed a man in his 50s and two women in their 30s sitting at the table inside playing cards. The women were twins hiking with their Dad; they did a backpacking trip every year together. They poked fun at him, and I chimed through the window on the porch as if I was an old family friend and this was acceptable. They laughed at my jokes; back home I wasn’t nearly as funny. Red head clamored up after me and I casually tried to convince him I had arrived hours before.
I wanted to continue on, but the warm dry hut cast a spell over me and the thought of having people to hang out with won me over.
My eyes gazed beyond the porch, which shielded me from a depressing drizzle that had begun. I caved and decided I would stay for the night.
Inside, Red Head and I unpacked our bags on to the wooden bunks. “My pack is so heavy.” Red Head laughed.
“Did you say your peck is so heavy?” I questioned.
I figured this couldn’t be true, but with his accent it sounded like it. I imagined him weighed down by enormous pecks on his chest causing him to hunch over- although now that I just typed this, it’s occurring to me that everyone in the cabin may have thought I was referring to another body part. Which make SO much more sense why the Dad claimed he was surprised I hadn’t been kicked out of my country yet.
Which reminds me of another incident recently where I was publicly shamed for my fabulous sense of humor, when I joined my buddy to meet his family at a coffee shop. I told them about my future solo hiking trip and the Grandma was surprised I went out alone. Meanwhile, his brother discussed their new baby while she bounced around in her Grandma’s arms. They began making fun of how large their baby was for her age, to which I bluntly stated what I assumed we were all thinking.
“She looks like a watermelon.”
The parents laughed. The Grandma didn’t.
“This is why no one wants to hike with you.” She confirmed.
I believe she was referring to me being a terrible person, but part of me wonders if she was secretly trying to convince me not to hike alone encase the baby escaped in the woods and tried to eat me.
Multiple people checked in to make sure I was still alive recently.
Landing in King County, I stepped off the plane only to be smacked in the face (with a gloved hand and sanitizer of course) by the new COVID-19 normal, which I found confusing to navigate having been removed from the situation for the past 3 weeks. I was a 90-year-old trying to use facetime for the first time, with the camera facing the wrong direction. “Why do I look like a KNEE CAP?”What were we allowed to do anymore? I tried calling my friends to hang out, but turns out that isn’t an option anymore. I woke up early before the crowds (social distancing) and went hiking at a popular spot and posted a picture and was scolded by the entire internet assuming I went mid day.
This is the worst time in history to write for a blog called “Get the F*** Outside”.
I suppose I should change it to, “Get the F*** Away from Everyone.”
What an interesting time to be alive.
For instance, I don’t understand why everyone is loading up on toilet paper. Jump in the shower, wash your butt and save your green for more important things like beer. The foundation for a kingly quarantine experience. These are desperate times people. Oh, also load up on zombie movies. So far we’ve watched World War Z, I Am Legend, 28 Days Later, Train to Busan and Contagion. Suggestions are appreciated, especially if this cough doesn’t go away.
New Zealand seems a lifetime ago because of all the COVID-19 conversations and new work protocols. Today I woke up with a bad cough, so I’m staying home from work and writing, between sleeping and dying. Hopefully this shit isn’t transferable over computer screens. Better go by some beer just in case. You not me. My fridge is so drunk she’s texting the outlet to unplug her, and re plug her in, so she can experience being turned on again after all these years.
Back to New Zealand stories.
I finished the Richmond Range, and found a hostel in town the last time I wrote. That evening I sequestered a plethora of tourist pamphlets and smeared them over the table at a bar to sift through over a beer and greasy burger. I looked like bait set for a kidnapper. The next day I booked a guided canyoneering excursion in Abel Tasman National Park hiking, cliff jumping and repelling down waterfalls.
The following day I ascended the highest via ferrata waterfall climb in the world.
Our guide had climbed some of the gnarliest peaks in the area and she was a bad ass chick. Tall and muscular, with blond hair pulled loosely into a pony tail and intense eyes, she was a female Mic Jagger. She was funny, crass, and didn’t give a shit what others thought. I asked her to recommend the gnarliest hike she could come up with nearby, because the weather proved to be better there than on the Te Araroa. I told her my background, and that I wanted to tackle the most difficult shit they had to offer. She spared me some beta, but because of the recent flooding, suggested that I go to the Dept of Conservation office to run my plans by them. I told her I would.
She ended the conversation convincing me to tell the rangers I’m not just “some tourist”, and to go into detail about my outdoor background so I was taken seriously. Three people had drown last week while trying to ford rivers backpacking, and the DOC offices were nervous.
Once we reached the 1,400ft summit of the falls, we took a helicopter back down to the parking lot, which proved to be even scary then the climb because the pilot was under the false impression that he needed to swerve around through the air like a drunk uber driver. Everyone else thought it was fun. I almost shit my pants.
I walked into the DOC office as soon as I made it back to Wanaka. I strutted up to the counter in the same manner you do when you order an extreme coffee beverage to show that you have control over at least one thing in your life. Evereything else is a hot mess in your life, your pants are inside out, you don’t know where your kid is, but damn it-“I’ll take a venti, quad shot, half decaf, sugar free, white chocolate mocha with almond milk, 180 degrees, with two pumps of caramel syrup, the real syrup not the fake flavored one, double cupped with a large straw and 2 tablespoons of whipped cream- Not any more than that- I’m watching my height.”
A tall thin woman with short brown hair greeted me behind the desk with forceful eyes, and a smart confidence about her. I told her I was a hardcore hiker; and I was looking for a hairy backpacking quest she could recommend. Soon we were exchanging stories like co-workers filling the time until the next customer to come in. “I would suggest Mount Aspiring National Park… This loop” she stated pointing at a map on the counter. This was the trail Mic Jagger recommended. The loop where three people had drowned the previous week. “You’ll have to ford the Makarora River here.” She advised pointed at the small squiggly line on the map where two of the deaths occurred.
The trip would take me over the Makaroa River and up the Wilkin to Kerin Forks hut. I would hike to Top Forks Hut from there, and out to two beautiful alpine Lakes; Lucidious and Castalia. Turning around, I’d head back to Kerin Forks and over the Wilkin River out to the Siberian Hut, up to another high lake and over Gillespie Pass out the Blue Pools Track to the highway where I would hitch back to my car. Around 60 or so miles.
Early the next morning, I pulled my rental car into a grassy field next to the trail head indicated for the cars of trampers.
I was beginning with the most dangerous part of the hike, the fording of the Makarora; a glacier fed river with a loud mouth which split into two forks I would maneuver through.
With a strong urgency to succeed, (and get it over with), I sped walked down to the riverbed through thick weeds which rubbed their dew all over my legs. Rude. The once murderous water seemed somewhat shallow from a dry person’s perspective standing on the bank. The two branches of the waterway appeared as an uneven forked tongue that could throw me back and swallow me if it desired. Walking up to the first fork, I noted the distance to be about 20 feet across; the next was over 100. I took a breath and submerged my foot into the moving water. The lung full wasn’t expansive enough to handle the shock. My chest rose and I gasped as the heat from my foot evaporated into the water and flowed down stream, like pathetic dandelion seeds in the wind. How could the water be this cold and still flowing? I was a cartoon character that stepped in wet cement the moment it hardened, but somehow the liquid kept moving and the only thing keeping me frozen was my own ability to remind myself to move. I slipped my other shoe inside the water. 100 invisible knives stabbed my foot. The invisible ones are the worst.
No one will ever believe you.
Shoving my body forward I cut through the rushing stream, pulling my lower legs through molasses I had just taken out of the freezer. The ground dipped under my feet allowing the water to climb up my thighs.
Keep moving, keeping moving.
I wailed as I yanked my bottom half from the grasp of the current and pulled myself on to the rocky bank to signify the finish line for the first crossing. “Owe! Owe! Owe!” I yelled in my normal deep voice which sounded more like male farmer getting nipped by his horse than anything coming out of a girl’s mouth. Lowering my arms I held my legs and walked awkwardly in an attempt to pump blood through them and dissipate the ice cream headaches I didn’t know my extremities were capable of experiencing. This is why the others drown, one slip under the water and your muscles would cramp up leaving you paralyzed. What a horrific way to go.
I pondered this as I starred at the next fork of the river, spanning the distance in front of me. Still, it didn’t appear too deep, but if my legs buckled, that would be a problem. Pushing the thoughts of death aside, as one does before they journey into the unknown, usualIy doing something stupid and having their significant other hold their beer- I stepped into the freezing water of the second fork. This time the cold lost its grip on my consciousness, as adrenaline filled my veins like a party drug. I kept my eyes focused on the bedrock of the stream, heaving my heavy frozen sausage legs meticulously forward leaning into the angry current; a solid 3 foot tall liquid wall being shoved into my lower half attempting to clothes line me. The water rose, clenching it’s jaws on my thighs. Keep moving. My trekking poles were bring swept out from the riverbed I feverishly forced them into. Keep moving.The butt of my pack was on the verge of submersion. My feet vanished, clouded by the glacial silt carried downstream. Struggling to balance, I blindly tapped my ogre feet along the bottom for rocks with no dexterity. My magical bunion couldn’t even help me. This was bad. My eyes jetted ahead assessing how much further I had to go.
I was only half-way.
TURN AROUND. I thought.
No river is worth your life. The entire debate team of my brain had already turned around 2 feet prior so I skipped the “what if” argument as it was useless and pivoted, pulling my body back the way I had come. On the bank, I peered down at my numb legs to make sure they still existed. They looked dead.
My legs hate me.
Good thing I only have one brain and its in my head, I have a feeling a mutiny would occur otherwise.
I was disappointed, but knew there was a jet boat available which ran up the waterway for people wanting to avoid crossing the Makaroa on foot. This would shave down the total mileage for the journey, but I was proud that I turned around when I did, avoiding poking the bear enough to wake her. Experience can lead to disaster due to a grown complacency we achieve. “Well, I’ve made it THIS far, so I must be doing something right.”
Nope. No one is immune to disaster.
My Dad says, “Always brag about turning around.” It’s harder than continuing forward. I agree with this advice, unless you are bragging to the jet boat service by the river you just attempted to walk through.
“You did WHAT?!!!” The man behind the counter bellowed, shocked by my efforts.
“I tried to cross the river?” I said with less confidence, as if my memory had failed me.
“The river is in flood! What were you thinking?!” His eyes burned, searching my face for an answer that would not suffice.
In my defense, I had done everything an outsider could do- I spoke with the DOC office who suggested this river crossing, I had the experience and education for swift water, and I knew when to turn around. Plus I had never seen the river in flood, as far as I was concerned this was what the river looked like low. Perhaps I had talked myself up too much to my fake co-worker at the DOC office and she took me for a super hero. It probably didn’t help that I was wearing my underwear outside my pants. Still, if I had slipped and went under, his anger was not without reason.
“I had to pull the bodies out of there last week.” The man stated glancing off handing me a receipt for the boat ride.
“I’m sorry, that must have been awful.” I said guilty of causing him the grief of relieving it.