New Zealand – Chapter 4

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Ten hours later, I awoke from a writer’s haze with ten pages of content and the owner of the café fiddling with the Wifi, indicating it was time I leave. I gallivanted down the cobblestone main street one last time, bought some trail mix and bananas, and took to the road. After an hour of head-bobbing-bus-dodging-mountain-pass-driving I settled into the next chapter of my trip and threw on the audiobook “Start with Why” by Simon Sinek. Fitting, given my goal for this adventure is to find my “why”.

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I drove five hours the first day, stopping with local tour groups to take short walks and stretch my legs. I couldn’t imagine sitting on a bus all day seeing New Zealand through a window with an occasional pee break – with no time to chase animals or jump in lakes or pick up hitchhikers. In just three short weeks, travelling had already jaded me.

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It was nice to be alone again – on the open road. With the wheel at my fingertips, everywhere to go, and no plans – I felt free. I felt the opportunity of the journey that lied ahead and inspired by what I could turn it into. Another challenge, another chapter.

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Night one, I stopped at a small Indian operated hostel near Fox Glacier. It was attached to the local sports bar so I obviously had a beer or two – and then a bottle of wine, and then chatted up an older well-travelled English couple and some aussies, and then got lit with a chick from Portland. It was good; maybe I drank too much.

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The next morning, I hit the road again – refreshed, and slightly hungover, on new connections and stories to share. Rain slowed my progress towards Arthur’s Pass but painted the rigid glacial mountain tops with dangling clouds – which was a sight to behold. Two hours into my ride, I spotted my first hitchhikers just outside Franz Josef – whom I duly slammed on my brakes for.

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Tim and Becky were real travelers. Their backpack shoulder straps were adorned with bohemian sleeve guards, and their smiles were as bright as their shoes worn. Fatefully, we were both heading 200 kms north, so I told them to “jump on in” – words which seemed to escape my lips just a little too fast. Tim was a vivacious Belgian that laughed almost too much – but was an absolute joy to be around. Becky, conversely, maintained the quiet temperament of a German watching the speedometer more often than the surroundings. Tim was tall and lanky with an unkept beard, Becky clean and short with tight lips. We made small talk for an hour and I learned that they were both creators from Europe – Tim an artisan furniture builder and Becky a newly trained boat builder. Our conversation soon thickened to discuss politics, marketing, fate, spirituality, and lifestyle. Four hours later, when we arrived at Arthur’s Pass, we hadn’t solved any of the world’s problems but it was apparent that we were well aware of them.

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The duo asked if I wanted to join them on the first section of their ten-day adventure down Te Araroa, NZ’s equivalent of the PCT, when we arrived to Arthur’s Pass – and having enjoyed their company, I agreed to tag along. I guess the feeling was mutual. We grabbed supplies and went in search of the trail head. I was eager to get back into my hiking boots.

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The notion of trekking with seasoned hikers initially intimated me as I didn’t want to slow the group, but I quickly found a comfortable pace between Tim’s long strides and Becky’s brisk steps. The initial ascent was brutish as, once again, I had loaded my pack with much too much, but I was determined to deliver a gourmet meal on the trail to my new friends. The trail wound its way through the mountains of Arthur’s Pass shifting between overgrown mossy rainforests, thick pines, and wet open meadows dense with tall grass. Our pace was firm but we were slowed by the muddied trail which quickly crusted out boots and knees with dirt.

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Upon arrival to Lagoon Saddle hut we explored the area noting the large “No Campfire” sign and lack of all basic amenities. A small sign on the hut door indicated another structure had been erected across a nearby stream which had recently fallen victim to a mudslide – making the trail to the hut rather treacherous with weight. The sister hut was sketchy – comprised of rusted metal panels and felt more like the set of a horror film than a proper DoC abode. It had a mattress, however, and with the addition of our wet boots and stinky sleeping bags, soon felt like home.

Settled into the meat shack, I wrestled with a small fire while preparing a beef mince dish with fried bacon and feta cheese, to high expectations. It was horrible. So bad, in fact, that I couldn’t help but laugh as I gagged it down. So much for the heavy pack and gourmet meal. To my defense, however, I didn’t have much time to coordinate the menu. My European counterparts prepared a delightful pasta dish of cottage cheese, feta cheese, scallions, garlic, and a splash of Chardonnay – accompanied by the rest of the bottle which we shelped up the hill. We sat around the campfire late into the evening nibbling on dark chocolate with small raindrops tickling our noses, bouncing between life stories and soothing silence, stoking the fire often.

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In the morning, no one was in a rush to say goodbye. Over the course of just one day, I had entered these two hitchers lives as a savior only to become part of their cohort – part of the clan. I smile just writing that. Tim and Becky were a joy to be around – I hope to see them again.

My arrival back to the car was bittersweet but I was excited to resume my road trip. Five hours later I arrived into Tekapo, a small lake town that claims to be the second-best star gazing spot in the world. The city turns off all public lighting at 10 p.m. to eliminate most of the local light pollution. After driving in the rain for most of the day, I didn’t have high hopes for my stay – but after an insane sunset and bottle of wine, the view was spectacular.

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I made camp in a large holiday park right off the lake. Upon my arrival, I befriended a traveler from Holland named Neil. Still riding on the high of my time with Tim and Becky I didn’t give Neil the time day as we set up camp, but upon my return from the city with a fresh bottle and full belly I stumbled upon a wanting soul to converse and watch the stars with. Neil, initially, appeared to be your typical blonde-hair blue-eyed pretty boy traveler.

We quickly stumbled through the pleasantries of our adventures through New Zealand, sharing pictures and reminiscing on summits climbed. Neil had the disposition of a traveler, but the depth of his stories and the breadth of his gaze soon proved that there was a wealth of experience hiding behind his eyes. Within an hour of talking, and drinking, we were both sharing stories of lost loved ones, trials of the past, and the reasons behind our travels abroad. How great it was, again, to be in good company, and better yet, how soon.

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We were both running towards the future with many lost loves, too many to count. Our laughs echoed throughout the campground deep into the evening, making sad stories merry, sharing more wisdom than two twenty year old’s should ever possess. The stars twinkled above. The full moon painted the mountainous landscape many shades of silver. We conversed late into the night, enjoying the view before us.

Before retiring for the evening, I convinced Neil to write, to share his story if only but with himself; and he convinced me to live more boldly, to say “Hi” when I didn’t have to – not a bad outcome I’d say. Neil described our meeting as fate – interesting how often that word keeps surfacing on this journey. Perhaps we’re all just looking for something bigger to believe in. Perhaps there is fate. No comment; it’s too soon to tell.

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My return to Queenstown was brief in the wake of such profound connections; music blasting, the mountains and 200ks flew by. I was excited to reconnect with my German travel mates and share stories from our week apart.

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Melo and the crew were staying outside the city at Twelve Mile Delta – our preferred campground while in Queenstown – but I opted to hire an AirBnb for my last weekend in the city given the rainy weather forecast and total need for a shower. After dropping off my belongings and returning the car, I found a quaint café on the lakefront to enjoy a coffee and write the tale of Melo.

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My last weekend in Queenstown was quiet. I reconnected with the German crew which had increased in size and sat on the boardwalk, eating a giant cookie in celebration of Melo’s 26th birthday. I learned how to lawn bowl in an attempt to pay frisbee golf one afternoon. I had a chance to satiate my palate with some decent sushi and delicious confectionaries. I even stumbled upon AJ – the pianist that hosted a free concert in front of my tent on my second night on the South Island. Overall, it was an enjoyable relaxing semi-boring weekend which presented adequate time to reflect.

My AirBnb host, Fish, was no stranger to travel himself, having visited over 80 countries throughout his life. We spent a few hours sharing travel stories and adventures the night I parted with my German friends – and even touched on characteristics of different cultures, as Fish reminisced on how the world has changed. We talked about my blog and why I write. He made fun of my total lack of followers – and then smoked me out as we watched the sun set behind Queenstown. The night ended with a rum and whiskey tasting resulting from conversations on Cuba’s nightlife and Irish versus Scottish whiskey.

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Fish challenged me to write more, to share myself more boldly – to be more open and amicable to the story I’m writing, and living.  He made me recognize how far I have come – better yet, how far I still have yet to go. He made me realize that anything worth doing takes years of doing and that passion is a result of practice and patience. He reinforced that my greatest enemy and ally in this life is me. Most importantly, he helped me rationalize that we’re all just trying to live the best life possible – and while different for everyone, we can all occasionally meet on common ground, even if just for the moment. I felt inspired; perhaps it was just the bud. Regardless, I wrote well into the evening.

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Fish dropped me off at the airport the next morning after a quick pit stop to grab some pies at Ferg Bakery. I jumped in my rental and hit the road again, no stranger to New Zealand’s driving laws. Little did I know how incredibly different the next chapter would be…

New Zealand – Chapter 3

It only takes about 30 minutes of hitchhiking in the dark with a bottle of wine in hand to question if you’re homeless, a vagabond, or in for a night of fun. Luckily, I found Melo in Queenstown that afternoon and had good company to contemplate life with on the side of the road. Our conversation soon proved that I had made a good decision to reconnect. A few cheers, and swigs, later we found ourselves en route to the city excited to enjoy the local nightlife. It’s funny how good company can easily make a bad decision appear great.

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We strolled into the town confidently, chests touted, in search of Melo’s travel mates from his prior months in New Zealand, Janick and Celiene. Thirty minutes later, we discovered them stumbling along the boardwalk, beers in hand, enjoying each other’s company. What aspired to be a night clubbing soon turned into a night of drinking and laughing on the shore of the lake. We bumped into some local buskers and I had to opportunity to spin fire for the local crowd and new friends. Our night ended at the infamous Ferg burger and a short taxi ride later we found ourselves stumbling back to our tents, entirely drunk and content with the evening.

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After hostel hoping the next morning in search of a free shower and wifi, we settled on our plans to travel to Wanaka to catch Roy’s Peak at sunrise and then depart on a three-day trek up Matukituki Valley. The weather forecast had worsened, however, so I opted to rent a car for our journey up to Wanaka to spare our group two long days and two sore thumbs. While I enjoy hitchhiking, hitching a couple hundred kms in the rain with four people isn’t exactly ideal. I picked up the car, we packed up camp, and departed on to our next adventure.

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After a night of camping in the rain and a two-hour scenic drive we found ourselves in Wanaka, aka – Heaven. Imagine a quaint mountain town abutting a giant clear glacial lake; gelato shops, cafes, and bars lining the main boardwalk; mountain-bikers sending every jump-like-barrier with towering mountains in the backdrop. Imagine sunny days posted up on beach with free wifi and a gentle warm breeze from the west. Imagine being thirty minutes away from some of the most epic mountain biking, kayaking, hiking, skiing, and off-roading New Zealand offers. Imagine… Queenstown wasn’t looking so hot anymore.

After a rainy day of laundry, showers, burgers, and getting kicked out of cafes we pitched our tents just outside the city excited to hike Roy’s Peak the next morning. A cyclone from the past three days left a fresh layer of snow on the peak which only strengthened our resolve to beat the sun to the summit. Next thing I know, it’s three am and time to hike.

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I felt like a spring rabbit when we hit the trail head. My empty stomach and tired body were ready to hit the mountaintop to enjoy some well-deserved granola and coffee. The first thirty minutes were grueling, however. The 12% grade, new-mooned darkness, and sheer persistence of the track had me looking at my watch every 90 seconds. Eventually, I submitted to the misery and began to enjoy the fire road that winds eight kilometers up to the 1,600 meter summit. Our group quickly found its stride and an hour in we started passing other sunrise-seeking wanderers. Two hours in and six kilometers later we hit snow. A fresh centimeter turned into two and then five and then twenty. Soon after we lost the track, and taking Melo’s lead, spent the last thirty minutes directly ascending towards the summit. At 6:15, we were the first to hit the peak.

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It was dark with a clear sky. In the absence of the moon we could see the outline of the horizon and twinkling lights of the towns below. The frigid wind chill soon rendered my gloveless hands unusable, and I surrendered to an unpixellated experience. Our group huddled up behind the weather station at the peak to seek refuge from the blistering cold, and soon warm coffee adorned our aching hands. Thirty minutes later we were joined by the second group to summit, a couple from France. They quickly requested shelter in our huddled-up coffee corner to stay warm, which we happily granted.

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The sunrise was magnificent. Three days of cyclone ridden overcast yielded rows upon rows of mountain ranges dusted with fresh snow. The horizon transformed from dark blue to purple to red to orange, light consuming every inch of the valleys below, over which course our group of six had grown into thirty ambitious souls from around the world. A diversity of languages, and cameras, enlivened the summit. We took some pictures, enjoyed the view as the sun breached the eastern vista, packed up, and headed for departure – the trail we couldn’t find now decorated with fresh snowy footprints.

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Descending was fun. We laughed and teased and tripped all the way down the mountain passing group after group of winded trekkers, stopping halfway down the track to enjoy a snack and reminisce on the morning’s death march. At 10 am, we arrived at the carpark – now overflowing with campervans and RVs alike. Our ambition, which had turned into effort, was now just a memory. It was a beautiful day – and it had only just begun. Kicking it lakefront that afternoon never felt so good.

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The next morning, we quickly stopped at the grocery store to resupply for the three day hike up Matukituki Valley. The journey to the trail head was treacherous in our little Camry. Stream crossings soon turned into full-on river adventures, and gravel quickly turned into boulders – but luckily we made it in one piece, passing a graveyard of car parts along the way representing less fortunate souls. We parked the car, loaded the packs , and took to the hills.

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The hike up the valley was spectacular. Epic peaks and glaciers fell into nine kilometers of quaint pastured fire-roads intertwining with a turquoise glacial river. Livestock sheepishly skirted the trail offering numerous opportunities to attempt to start a stampede; all unsuccessful. Two hours later we found ourselves at Aspiring Hut, the halfway point to where we’d camp that evening. It was at this point that I felt my resolve start to wither. My pack became heavy and every step felt fruitless.

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The next two hours were hell. I bounced between being upset with the weight of my pack, pace of my counterparts, distance we had to travel, and state of my mind. I projected and then injected and then introspected – and finally resolved that I was just out of shape and on a long-ass hike. The last kilometer of the trail entertained a 700-meter ascent to the Liverpool hut; a combination of climbing and clinging on for dear life. I was tired but this track wouldn’t get the best of me. Turns out we all survived; and while tired, even had enough energy to enjoy the view. However, all I could think about that night was how terrified I was to descend from this hut/death trap. Advanced track felt like an understatement – I can’t wait to do another.

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The next morning I delayed getting up, much to my travel mates chagrin. I told them to go on – thinking they’d take me up on the offer. I had given up – I was scared and tired with well worn blisters. Much to my surprise, though, they stayed – and deferred the day’s plan. I was shocked and embarrassed, but entirely relieved – and very grateful. The hike down was actually fun on fresh legs – root clinging and butt scraping. I took pause at the bottom to thank my group – my friends. My mind had gotten the best of me the night before, but Melo, Janick, and Celiene helped me get the best of my mind. I got by with a little help from my friends. We made camp at Aspiring Hut that night and enjoyed a feast of instant rice and dehydrated lamb.

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The hike out was hilarious. 100 kph winds with heavy rainfall found us often blowing around the track with our butts in the mud. An unfortunate soap spill from the night before left my pack soaked with dish soap – and I quickly turned into the pillsbury doughboy. Sheep tumbled across the fire road. Cyclones shifted into dust devils whipping the river around the track. Rain guards frolicked in the wind like neutral flags begging for an armistice. Everyone ambled on at a tilt trying not to fall – at points dropping down just to survive. And survive we did – with smiles on our faces and mud on our butts. We clawed our way to the carpark, loaded up the Camry, and hit the road ready to cross some rivers.

There’s only one river crossing on the road to Matukituki Valley that you should worry about, and on a sunny day it’s really not that bad. It was not a sunny day, however, and the waterfall feeding the now-river was raging. I had worried about this crossing on arrival as it had almost ripped off our front bumper and now we had to decide if we wanted to risk floating down the river or camp in the howling wind for the night. This was not a decision for a coin toss.

Fifteen minutes of stick probing and nervous pacing later I asked my travel mates to jump out, told them to jump into the river and push if we got stuck, and gunned it. Anxious spectators who had smartly parked in the non-4×4 lot had their cameras trained, ready to post “Camry floats away in New Zealand Fjord”. But we made it. The few who watched even applauded. I smiled and laughed, unsure how our little sedan managed a submerged engine bay. The rest of the flowing rivers felt like trickles compared to that initial crossing, tunes blasting and our heads bobbing. This was Melo and Janick’s first multi-day hike and would surely prove not to be their last.

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We hit Wanaka, devoured giant burgers, bounced around town that afternoon, hired an AirBnB for the evening, and I made my travel companions a Mexican salad in celebration of their first multi-day hike as we watched the closing ceremonies of the Olympics. On our last day in Wanaka, we relaxed on the beach in quiet enjoyment – it was a spectacularly sunny day. My new friends were headed for Tekapo to meet up with two of Melo’s mates from home – and I planned to take a road trip up west coast. We resolved to meet in Queenstown five days later for Melo’s birthday and had a roadside goodbye.

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It was sad to say farewell to my new German friends, but I was ready for a solo adventure. My travel companions had challenged me physically and mentally – and I departed their company wiser, entirely content, and completely lost. So, I did what I do best – I found a cozy café and I began to write. Words poured from my fingers and my journey started to take shape on paper. Perhaps my blog would find some life after all. Interactions were starting to feel less sparse and more wanted, and I stumbled upon a satisfaction with having people in my life just for the moment. This is why I came to New Zealand – this is why I left my life back in the US.

 

Kaiserschmarrn-amalamadingdong

With taut backs and tempered laughs,
ten km’s – no more.
Fate happed on a stranger’s path
from which we took our course.
Into gulch, and valley, mulch,
through river, into rain –
in search of inspiration,
and adventure – with a plan.

And crossing paths, we found (again)
a seeker in the night, drying by the fire
to his pure delight.
With a smile painted by the pyre –
his feet were bruised and wanting more.
In discretion – we talked upon
the aides and ails of the world.
Until he said, in the dark –
“May I hap upon you more?”

With the toss of a coin
he bummed a ride to town;
wasn’t the waterfall crossing nuff’
to straighten this nomad sound?
But laugh we did with eyes rolled,
our packs became light –
eating pasta, bellies full,
drinking into night.
So much so that he said again
“May I hap upon you more?”

And to the Sound we took at speed,
chasing, in the rain.
Again, talking quite a bit
about life and plans.
Greeted by waterfalls, giggling all the way:
we shared in gay occasion
as we took into the rain.
And soon the seeker seemed a bit
settled in his place.

Off the road and out of gas,
to the boonies, we ran a flat,
back to home – into the kitchen –
the lights fell to remission.

And as we drank, and ate, and drank –
questions came and went.
We delved a little deeper to
what many circumvent.
Crazy theories with wanting more,
origin stories aiding deep pours.
So much so the mood did shift;
how far we had come,
and better yet – how quick.
So much so, to the stranger, said –
“May we hap upon you more?”

And with cakes, we shared again
the last laughs that we’d take
with the kindly stranger that
bummed a ride to town,
and tossed a coin,
and cooked a meal,
and shared his crazy sounds.

And so is the tale of Routeburn,
how sad it must conclude –
wishing our newfound friend
well until we resume.

Perhaps wiser, certainly fuller,
on questions to contemplate,
as this nomad was a little crazy
but our meeting seemed like fate.

2/15/18

I’ve met some girls;
they seem nice –
their smiles glow;
it livens mine.
Perhaps I should
investigate
a little more about them.

2/19/18

It went well,
I learned a bit.
But I’ve said too much
and so I seek again.

– For Conny and Nora –

New Zealand – Chapter 2

It only took thirty minutes and two wet socks for me to realize the weight on my back and distance I had to travel. In the past, my resolve may have faltered but the pain only made me walk faster. I only stopped twice on my way up to the Routeburn Flats Hut – once to tighten my laces and once just to take it all in. The rain was dense, as was the forest. Ferns lined the well-appointed trail, bowing to the rain, beading sweat. Moss encrusted trees provided shelter between river gorges with narrow suspension bridges and glacial waterfalls. The rain made the forest come alive.

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Two hours into my journey, I was greeted by a massive river valley and the Routeburn Flats hut. One second I was walking in an enchanted forest and the next I was greeted by the great plains and surrounded by towering glacial mountains. I quickly acquainted myself with the hut and fellow trekkers trying to dry off, made myself a quick meal – noticed the sun had finally decided to make an appearance and took off exploring the meadow.

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Tall grass happily greeted my newly blistered feet, surely a result of my wet socks and heavy bag, as it couldn’t have been my total lack of training… I walked deep into the river valley with waterfalls on both sides, camera in hand. My electronics soon felt like a burden however, so I soon returned to camp to grab my journal and pack my devices.

The weather looked like it was going to hold so I returned back to the meadow, again, this time with no sandals or camera. I jumped over a river, paused for a second to feel the kiss of the wind, and took off running. I just ran. It was the first time I ran since knee surgery and breaking my leg. I felt free with the wind in my hair, my feet dancing between unkept grass and a narrow muddy unmapped tracks, and my lungs fresh and on fire. I ran.

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Soon I stumbled; I tumbled. I laughed on my back looking at the sky, hidden in the tall grass. I sat up only to be pushed back down by a strong gust of wind – perhaps nature was trying to tell me something. I stretched a bit and decided to meditate in the wind – calming my mind and warming my soul. In that moment, freedom felt free and my mind flowed. It was time to journal.

I made my way back through the meadow with the biggest smile on my face – I must’ve seemed crazy to the other hut dwellers who were still trying to dry their socks and stay warm – emerging from the meadow barefoot covered in grass and mud stains. And then, I began to write. Words were easily founded and I felt relieved to acknowledge the past few days. Fate started to seem like reality – and the universe felt kind.

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My artistic trance was soon interrupted by a kind voice asking “May we join you?” I looked up to greet the brightest smile and most piercing blue eyes I had ever seen. Their names were Conny and Nora – and contrasted with the backdrop of the mountains, I felt my heart jump. They asked me what I was writing. Nothing much, I suppose. I closed my journal to greet their smiles and aching backs.

We chatted for an hour about life and travel. We shared advice about trekking. We said goodbye hoping our paths would cross again. I felt mused by their presence and drew the landscape – anxiously awaiting our next interaction.

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The next morning I awoke with the vigor of a dog in pursuit of a cat. I made breakfast, patched my blisters, pulled out my hiking poles, threw on fresh socks, and took the trail. My pace was fast but my steps felt light – even with an aching back. I had to catch these two German girls. Three hours and a brisk wet morning later, however, I realized I must’ve passed their hut before they even started walking. I laughed to myself on the ledge of a mountain peering into the clouded abyss that hid the Routeburn Valley. Out of breath and on top of the world, I felt at home. I resumed my brisk pace enlivened by the adventure of solitude.

14 kms later I found myself greeted by Lake McKenzie hut – a 60 bunk abode sitting on the front of a turquoise lake surrounded by rocky mountains and short-lived waterfalls from the day’s rain. I made lunch and posted up in the corner of the hut with my laptop to write, only to soon be interrupted.


Writing feels like a job when you’re travelling but it also feels right. It allows me to relive crucial moments and feel the wind in my hair, once again. It allows me to find lessons through reflection and acknowledge the insane and mundane in every day. It allows me to realize why I am living and helps me figure out how I want to live some more. Before this trip, I’d write because I wanted to – now I write because I need to. I write because life is a journey worthy of recognition and sharing, even if it’s just with oneself. I write because thirty years from now I want to look back, acknowledge my life, and have a basis to evaluate my growth. I write because I can. And so, I write.

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Gabby presented herself to be a humble traveler but soon appeared to be much more. A Chicago native that immigrated to Israel, she had the grit of soldier and the lust of an adventurer. We quickly became friends around the hearthstone, drying our socks and warming out feet. Soon, her very blistered and opinionated partner in crime, Lina, joined in our conversation. We shared our adventures (a theme among travelers) and aspirations for life while Lina complained about her feet. I felt for her though, mine weren’t in good shape either.

And then the German girls entered the hut, Nora and Conny. My conversation buddies all of a sudden became my captives as I just wanted to escape to say “Hi.” But I played it cool, I think; waving and continuing a conversation about travelling around Israel – a country I look forward to visiting in May. But the conversation stumbled on – so I started to plot my escape, at one point even venturing outside in the rain to jump in the freezing Lake McKenzie trying to take my leave. It didn’t work though, as I was followed.

That evening though Nora and Conny joined our communal table for dinner and not two seconds after they sat down did I start peppering them with questions; their joint laugh livened the tired and wet common area, and their smiles still glowed. Our conversation lasted deep into the evening – laughing, eating chocolate, and speaking on the world, jobs, life, and why we travel – until the lights finally clicked off. I asked if I could join them on their hike the next day and bid them goodnight.

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In the morning my blisters were well worn and hurting, but I didn’t care – I had cool new hiking buddies. My initial plan was to turn around at Howden hut and hike back to Glenorchy but Nora and Conny offered me a ride to Te Anau and every step down the mountain felt like a step closer to their car. We passed and crossed dozens of waterfalls on the trek down the mountain, starting the day in our raingear only to strip down to our shorts an hour later. I shared the journey of Burning Man, breaking my leg, and my many encounters with mystics in the past months – knowing these girls must think I was crazy. But they listened with wanting ears, so I told my tale.

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Eventually we hit Howden hut and I peeled off my socks, wet from walking directly under a 300 ft waterfall (pictured above). The blisters were bad and I had 40 kms to go on my journey back to Glenorchy. The girls looked at me again, compassionately, and offered a ride to Te Anau – so I did what any rational backpacker would do; I flipped a coin.


It came up heads and I gave the girls a look of disappointment, although I was smiling inside excited to enjoy their company a bit longer. They smiled, I smiled; we packed up lunch and began the trek back the carpark at the Divide chatting about art and culture. These girls felt like my people and it only validated my decision to continue my journey with them.

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The manager at the Backpacker’s Lodge in Te Anau took pity on me in a fully booked city and provided me a tent site for the evening. Good thing I had my tent. And so, a day hike turned into an evening which turned into a few.

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In those few days we ate pasta and drank wine and took pictures and cruised around the Milford Sound laughing all the way. Our last night, we made dinner, drank (maybe) too much wine, and talked about love and life. Conny and I spoke well into early hours of the morning – and she made me realize how much I still have to learn, discover, and accept about life. The final morning, I wrote them a poem; they made me German pancakes. We said goodbye. Bittersweet, but it was a needed step to continue my journey. At the time, I was upset that our adventure had to come to an end – but now I’m just grateful I had the opportunity to travel with these two wonderful women.

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It’s difficult when you meet someone you know you will like to not act a little weird or quirky. Excitement and intrigue have a clever way of making us seem brash, brawning, and over-zealous. Rare it is to encounter a soul enticing enough to inspire excitement just by their sheer presence. Rarer yet it is to inspire wanting. It took me a few days to get over meeting Nora and Conny – Nora’s penetrating bold blue eyes and tempered disposition – Conny’s warm flowing smile and generous laugh. They both reminded me of loves lost and loves to come.  I could say more but, suffice to say, a smile says enough. Wherever you two are – I wish you well and much happiness.

So I bought a bus ticket, and a few conversations, a cup of coffee, and a beautiful bus ride later I was in Queenstown and in search of Melo.

New Zealand – Chapter 1

It’s hard to describe the feeling of freedom. I think it’s different for everyone. To me, freedom is the feeling of well-worn wet socks, glacial lake showers and windy mountain passes, the capacity to carry my house on my back – and put it down wherever feels like home. New Zealand, unlike many places, provides me such freedom. I am a traveler – a nomad seeking vision, a vagabond with purpose, a free spirit looking to connect.

I’ve never traveled by myself – and up until stepping off the plane in New Zealand, I kept asking what I was doing; better yet, why? The rain greeted my face outside the terminal like a breath of fresh air. I was captured by a compulsion to point my boots in one direction and walk until either my soles retired or resolve faltered. Luckily, Auckland isn’t a massive city and I was able to seek shelter before experiencing either. That didn’t stop me from walking in the rain all day though, much to my wanting chagrin.

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Auckland is a charming city, especially in the rain. The city feels like San Francisco without a depraved and searching social life or a walkable Sydney, but it carries the charm of a mountain town. The downtown blends into charming suburbs with remnants of times past – and it only takes a ten minute wander out of the downtown to find quiet cottaged streets rich in history and lifestyle. A quick stroll down Queen street or to the pier serves as a rich reminded of tourist ridden city life, which might feel like too much – if it weren’t so closely juxtaposed by the congested charm of High Street which feels more like Potter’s Diagon alley than a busy retail corridor or Karanghape Rd, your local bohemian inspired center for debauchery. And then there’s Ponsonby – aka, where New Zealand keeps all of its yuppies – but where you’ll also find the best coffee and ice cream in the city. And when the City becomes too much, a five-minute jaunt will almost always land you in a quiet park where you can enjoy an espresso and contemplate life or the tabloids – your choice. Overall, it’s a charming city – busy, bustling, exciting, livable and visit-able.

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Two days in the rain served as a needed dampener to send me in search of wifi enabled cafes so I could plan my next month and a half. I landed without a plan but I resolved to find my next step. After a rainy walk down to the DoC (Department of Conversation) office, I lucked into booking my first great walk: the infamous Routeburn, but I only had three days to get down to Queenstown and over to the track. Next thing I know, I’m booking my first hostel, a plane ticket, and off to the airport.  Not without enough time to enjoy my first, and last, sunny day in Auckland however. The city came alive in the sun and the quiet parks became vibrant. Sad to say goodbye, I left for the airport in search of a wild adventure.


I was reminded of the difference between a traveler and a tourist on the plane as I sat next to a Denver based CFP touring New Zealand with a group of 15 other companions in search of adventure through bus windows and isle seats. I give her credit though – travel is not for the feint of heart. She shouted to me as I departed from the plane “Does your mother know where you are?”

Landing in Queenstown felt like coming home. You’re greeted by towering mountains that seem to just drop off into crystal clear valley lakes. A 10 minute bus ride will land you smack dab in the center of the worst planned and most youthful city in New Zealand. I sprinted to Black Sheep hostel, wanting to fully explore the entire city, which didn’t take long. The downtown is young and fun – full of buskers, lakefront cafes, towering backpacks, distracted drivers, and kids with too much credit all surrounded by towering mountains. It’s just wonderful. After taking in the local fairs for a couple hours I retired back to my hostel with a bottle of wine and KFC chicken sandwich unsuspecting of the night.

As, what I’d consider to be, a typical American – I always attached a negative stigma to hostels. The congestion, the depraved youths, shared bathrooms, slow WiFi – how could they ever be charming and safe and cool, right? How wrong I was… Sure, sleeping in a dorm room with 5 other smelly backpackers takes a night or two of adjustment but it only takes a week in a tent to appreciate the luxury of a dry bed and warm shower. And then there are the social spaces – the number one reason to stay at a hostel. The tabled lawns and massive well equipped kitchens, the shared lounge and accompanying board games, the tight dorm rooms and communal bathrooms – all of these spaces force interaction and respect. Quality interactions people yearn for in life – interactions hotels seldom provide.

Posted up at one of the larger communal tables at Black Sheep Hostel, I began to drink, write, eat, and be merry. I was soon joined by one of my dorm mates – a 19 year old au-pair from France visiting New Zealand for a year to “find herself”. It didn’t take her long to realize she was in good company – although our interaction comprised more of hand gestures than dialogue. We were soon joined by a kind gentleman from Japan who was taking vacation in the South Island for two weeks before returning to work in Sydney. Finally, Melo joined us; a stout dark German with good English and a better wit. We all spoke on our adventures through New Zealand and the world – and our plans.

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So often in the US we become accustomed to asking people “What do you do?” – as our jobs seem to so narrowly define our lives. In New Zealand the custom is to ask “How long have you been here?” – as it’s a pretty good barometer for happiness, purpose, and passion. Travelers only a couple of months in usually are in transition; those three to nine months in are happy with drive; those over nine months in are usually crazy, broke, rich in life, and have the best stories.

While none of my new friends were over nine months into their journey, we all had ambition to realize such lifestyle and find such purpose and passion in our travels and selves. As the night drew on and wine bottle drained, broken English soon turned into hushed whispers and hearty laughs. I don’t think much was said, but it was said well. Eventually the four became three and three became two – and Melo began talking about his goals in New Zealand. Looking back it feels crazy but I trusted this guy the moment I met him – and soon his goals became mine and our goals became a plan to meet after my trek up Routeburn. My goal to travel with a total stranger would soon be realized – I had a goal and a plan and purpose. Soon after, the wine was gone and it was time for bed.


I greeted the warm morning swiftly packing up my backpack and wishing my dorm mates well. Queenstown felt groggy in the morning after a night of partying but that provided me needed time to buy food and prepare for my 10 plus days in the mountains. Melo and I soon met to finalize our plans – he pointed me in the direction of the best camp site near the city, and I was off to hitchhike, for the first time, in search of a place to crash for the evening.

Having never hitchhiked I felt weird standing right outside the city looking for a ride so I decided to walk along to lakefront path for a few kilometers to prove I wasn’t a lazy backpacker. Soon I found myself with a sore back from a backpack weighing way too much and no path to continue down the road, so I did what any rational person would do – I threw my thumb up, feeling like I was throwing caution to the wind. It was awesome – I was nervous and excited and on a mission. It only took thirty minutes for a cute French girl to save my stranded soul – and deliver me to Twelve Mile Delta campground.

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After walking around the campground for thirty minutes and taking a quick dip in the lake I decided on a quiet embankment to make camp for the evening. Not long after pitching my tent, for the first time mind you, I was joined by another backpacker, Alex – an opinionated tramp from Birmingham with an affinity for death metal and being a vagabond. He had been backpacking for over 8 years working odd jobs here and there to fund his wanderlusting habit. We shared some beers and reminisced on our travels, festivals, life, and passions. We talked into the night only taking pause to enjoy a busker who decided give a free piano concert at the campsite for Valentine’s day right in front of our tents. The sun set, the ambient music danced with the wind, the mountain backdrop soon turned red; it was actually quite romantic – and peaceful. I slept well that night ready to take to the mountains with my backpack.

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The next morning I woke up to four campervans surrounding my tent – and a wagon somehow parked in the eight feet between Alex and I. (So that’s what he ruckus was the night before…) I took it as a sign that I was ready to get off the roads and onto the trails. I packed my kit, said goodbye to my new friend, and hit the road in search of a hitch 60 kilometers north to the Routeburn trailhead. Not twenty minutes after throwing my thumb up did a kind couple from England take pity on the size of my backpack and offer me a lift to Glenorchy, the next town up the road. I soon learned about their sons who had also both taken vacation in New Zealand backpacking only to find it too lovely to leave. They were in the country for six weeks visiting their kids – and I think I reminded them of their oldest son.

As we approached Glenorchy we were greeted by rain. They looked at each other, then at me, and then back to each other. Next thing I know they’re driving me all the way to the trailhead – 30 kms past the city. “We were going to check it out today anyways.” Steve kept saying. I kept my mouth shut and smile wide as the rains drops grew bigger.

The landscape was beautiful, even in the rain. Blurred river valleys with massive rock beds bled into rolling farms dense with sheep, and then mountains shot up out of nowhere only to disappear into the clouds. Could this be heaven? We arrived at the car park too soon for me to answer that question.

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I thanked the too-kind couple for saving me a wet hitch, grabbed my hefty backpack, and ventured to the rainy Routeburn trailhead ready to conquer the world. It was at that moment that I felt like my adventure had begun – and I was overjoyed. I took to the trail.

“It feels good to be lost in the right direction”

Departure

There’s not much more to say than I’m off – and knowingly unready for this big adventure, excitedly. I’ve toiled with the thought of meaning and intent the past few days, trying to build more into my trip – only to realize that meaning is not a manifestation of thought, but of action and interaction. That makes me excited; to think that I must stumble upon my trip as it stumbles upon me.

The night before departure was tough. I found myself tossing and turning in anticipation. I’m still not sure if it was nervousness or excitement, probably a healthy dose of both. All I knew was the dense knot in my stomach that wouldn’t go away. It subsided upon landing in LAX – the first point of inconvenient return.

The final hours prior to departure were a sprint – a byproduct of some healthy procrastination. I had to register my finicky GPS, get an international phone – which turned into buying a new mobile, purchase insurance, pack my home for the next seven months, color coordinate my many shades of grey, get some last-minute work done (yay), play around with the video editing software long enough to be considered a novice, and of course – say goodbye.

Luckily, I had some much needed help from the wisest woman I know. A woman who once told me that work extends into the amount of time available. How right she was… is, dammit. At least I can say I get by with a little help from my friends.

I was sad to say goodbye to my family. I know when I see them again they won’t be the same, nor will I. 2018 is promising to be a year of immense transition – and like ripping off a bandaide it will hurt initially even if in search of a better tomorrow. I look forward to growing on this trip but know I will return a little less childish and a lot less immature. A healthy transition but irreversible, and thus – slightly melancholic; however, exciting nonetheless. This is a much needed and wanted transition.

Shout-out to my grandma who turned 95 on February 8th! Love you Peggy.

Blisstramp: Inception

wandererWelcome to Blisstramp,

I’m not really sure how to introduce this blog or myself. All I know is that I needed an outlet. I like to write. And I want to share my perspective.

I haven’t taken the time to journal my thoughts consistently ever, I don’t think. Even now, as I sit writing my first post – I’m festered with doubt at the notion of sharing myself. But, run towards your fears they say – so I must share.

I lost myself in 2017. I blew up my life. I became quiet. I became reserved. I stopped trying – I quit trying. For a while, I just existed. It sucks to write that – but it’s true.

It’s incredible how easy it is to lose oneself in the face of significant adversity. I always though I was strong but I realize now that strength isn’t the ability to process tragedy – it’s managing everything else in between. And perhaps you can run, putting time in between you and your former self, dulling the pain – but at some point you have to confront your emotions. So, here I am – ready to confront. Ready to put my former self aside and stride into the next chapter of my life: Adventure.

Blisstramp is my creative alter-ego. My place to share ruthlessly for no other reason but the necessity to share. The necessity to solidify my voice in my own mind – and find a tone which I can own. The necessity to atone – and forgive myself – for my failures. The necessity to reflect and grow and reflect and grow…

Blisstramp is an adventure: 17 countries, hundreds of miles on foot, countless connections, weeks of silence, endless vistas, enduring isolation, spiritual conquests, artistic expression – all in search of myself and hopefully some meaning in this hectic world.

Blisstramp is my transformation and I’m very excited to share this journey.

“There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.”  – Ernest Hemingway