Archive for December, 2011

“We can take extra stuff, right?  It’s not like we’re carrying it…it’s in a boat!”

Yeah…no.  Well, to an extent.  That mindset governed our raced packing as we had put everything we thought we would need for 25 days of sea kayaking.  We all regretted this as we learning how to pack the boats.  The first time we attempted, it took us two hours.

Since the tide had gone almost all the way out, we placed the three doubles and six singles considerably far in toward the land so that by the time we finished packing, the tide would have come in and make it easy to push the boats out.  In theory.  I found myself a little skeptical at first…how hard can it be to pack a boat?

Double Beach Sunset

Two hours of standing in cold hydro skins in the end of winter in New Zealand packing, shoving, rotating, heaving made us rethink that brilliant decision to bring a few extra layers, several books, and whatever else we thought wouldn’t matter because we were in boats.  Not to mention three and a half weeks of food for twelve people which included each cook groups three to four bags plus twenty-two food babies.  Kayaks have this interesting shape, see, it’s like packing a banana.  Things fit differently.

Sean tried to demonstrate the technique in one of the smaller single kayaks and it worked until he got stuck and had to rethink the matrix himself whereby Nick took over with a huge wave of enthusiasm and jumping up to rotate his sleeping bag down into a tiny space.  Funny faces included.

For the first few days, I shared a double with James.  We decided to try to each pack our own things in the front and back hatches first, and then to pack the group gear and what we couldn’t fit of our things in the large center hatch.

I bent down and peered into the hatch which would supposedly fit this giant boat bag of stuff.  If I tried, I could fit my entire body into that boat bag…and have extra room.  While I may be small, I don’t think I could fit into that front hatch.  Maybe if I detached my arms and legs somehow or I became a gumby doll that could bend in any direction, but it didn’t look likely that could happen.

Beginning with my cut down z-lite sleeping pad (at an once per panel, I cut it down to ten panels to save weight later on), I shoved it at the very tip.  To do so, I had to kneel and put almost my whole right arm into the hatch to properly get the pad stuck in there.  Other small items then wedged themselves up there like my rain pants and jacket, bowl, and fake crocs.  With the remaining space, I had two medium dry sacks which didn’t mold well, but stayed primarily in an annoying cylindrical shape.  I also had my sleeping bag, one smaller dry sack, and one of our cook groups large food bags.  After a great deal of shoving and rotating of bags, I fit all but the small dry sack and the boat bag itself into the hatch.  A few times, I put almost all of my body weight on the sacks to get them down into their proper space.

James managed to do a little better than me and get all of his stuff into the back hatch in a diligently thought out, super precise plan.  We strangled the neoprene hatch covers back on, which was always a challenge because once you got one side, the other would inevitably pop off and this would go back and forth with frustration.  Taking a deep breath, the two of us began on the pile of group gear that we had to fit into the middle hatch, which, luckily, was quite a bit larger.  We began by shoving the tent fly down under the front seat which provided an awkward u-shape of space that wouldn’t fit much else.  To do this successfully, I had to straddle the boat and put my upper body down into the hatch and poke and shove until it molded itself to the u-shape.  Fun, right?

We packed six food babies and the library.  Yes, we had a library.  It weighed maybe fifteen pounds and contained books on all kinds of topics, edible plants, New Zealand history, weather formations, NOLS instructional books, kelp, sea creatures, etc.  Picking it up, all I could think about was how I hoped we didn’t have to take that backpacking.  This comes from me, who cuts books in halves or thirds, sometimes quarters and mails the parts ahead so I don’t have to carry the weight of a whole book.  This hatch, I came to like quite a bit; we packed everything including my small dry sack and boat bag with extra room!  We ended up taking a few other people’s leftover items that wouldn’t fit.

“Good thing these will only get easier to pack!” Sean yelled as he practically stood on his sleeping bag to get it into the boat.  “Just keep eating and it will get easier!”

Don’t have to tell that to me twice!  I have experience that with pack weight on my back many times.

Just like clockwork, by the time we managed to get everything into the boats, the tide quickly approached the bows and it only took a few feet of sliding to ease them into the water, ready for take off.  Conveniently, the sun came out and the crepuscular rays made beautiful lines down from the sun to the water and the hills that rose above them.  Or really, what remained of the hills–the Marlborough Sounds was actually sunken valleys.

We set off on a small day whichtook us about three and a half nautical miles to Double Beach.  Beginning, we all had different paces and had to work out to paddle together in a pod formation which placed us in a diamond shape: a leader, two wings, and a caboose with everyone else in the middle.  We quickly learned to watch out if the doubles had flanks because we didn’t want to scrape the fiberglass on rocks just under the surface near the coastline.

When we got there, we set up camp following the instructions of the “beach boss” and his or her assistant whose job included running around and discovering good campsites, water, and pit toilet (if one existed).  As soon we unpacked the boats and set up the tent and tarp, we quickly changed out of the wet hydro skins to stop shivering.  Only then would our fingers work properly, usually after a solid warming in the armpits.  We would stay there for two nights and learn some good skills before venturing onward.

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Disembarking the bus and eager to set up our stuff, Sean and Nick, our two sea kayaking instructors had us unload all the boats and line them all up close to the water putting other equipment with them: paddles, life jackets, spray skirts, paddle floats, water pumps, and a few other assorted items.  The sky clouded over and stayed overcast which kept threatening rain.

Have no fear: we have tarps!  Whoa!  Sean and Nick decided to demonstrate how to set them up with their favorite knot (so it seemed) the “trucker’s hitch” and then had us all set up camp in the area.  We returned to the first tarp area to have a communal kitchen and an introduction to the MSR Whisper Lite stove.  Being an adamant fan of the Pocket Rocket or the homemade beer can alcohol stoves, the Whisper Lite seemed like a metal chia pet which seemed to grow new little parts each time I looked at it.  Pull one thing off and three more hunks of metal appeared.  Pull another thing off and it spit up black grease.

At this point, I started to think karma was kicking my ass for laughing at hikers who had frying pans, large pot grips, shit tons of fuel, and in general food that weighed too much per ounce in the optimum once to calorie ratio.  We had a fry pan, iron at that.  Plus, jug after jug of white gas.  Yup, karma is coming to get me.  Oh and the pot grips were large pairs of pliers weighing in with at least close to 10 ounces.

Tracy, James, Kyle, and I made up the first four person group and we lugged the four large nylon bags of food and the fifth full of cook gear over to the communal kitchen.  At this point, the sun has already disappeared and we search through the food bags with our headlamps trying to agree on something to make for dinner.  The time is 6pm.  Oh winter.

Pause.  Character introduction time.

Tracy runs white water and actually went to high school just to do so.  She’s also such an avid reader that you could probably put an incredibly loud metal band in front of her and dance around with tutus and she wouldn’t notice, especially if the J.R. Tolkien has written the novel.

James is James.  At this point, his humor went a little over our heads and only he found it funny and seemed to enjoy it more when we all stared dumbfounded as he cracked up.  He also ties decorative knots and reads large histories of Scotland in his free time.  Oh, and if you can’t find him, he’s probably climbed a tree.

Kyle is the oldest of our group, turning 25 on the trip, from Austin, Texas and rides his bicycle religiously – so much so that he got hit by an 18-wheeler on it and survived.  He even has a scar the shape of a monkey to prove it.  His hair will also come up in many of these stories.

Enter communal kitchen.

Imagine: four very different people having to decide what to cook for dinner when everyone has an opinion of how it should taste.  Luckily, hunger stepped in and forced us to decide because arguing about what to cook would take away from cooking it and therefore would take longer to reach our growling stomachs.  End product: rice, Indian curry packet and the freshies.  After some discombobulation having four cooks in the kitchen, we produced something of a curry and hungrily ate until we had finished it.

Once everyone had finished cooking and we sat eating together, Sean beamed and said something along the lines of:

“See how confusing that was with everyone cooking?  Now, the rotation comes in!  One person cooks for one day, then trades to the next and so on and so forth.”

We all exchanged glances, not knowing if we should trust our food to other group members quite yet.  Pondering this, the rain began to settle in and we moved under a double tarp set up in order to all stay dry.

So far, most of our talk had stayed on the surface, nothing too in-depth in the “get-to-know-you” department.  That was about to change.  Sean and Nick passed around the idea of doing what they called “deep intros” where one person talks for fifteen to twenty minutes about their life, beginning with birth until what brought us together huddled under a tarp.  Then, when the person finished, the rest of the group could ask any questions they wanted to clarify or get more information.  It worked pretty well in learning all about each other.  Kyle and JD went first that night.

A late night, around 10pm, we all went to bed and had a be ready to get wet time of 8:30am.

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The Plunge!

“Somebody told me that all NOLS is, is packing stuff in bags and relocating it,” James joked as we had packed sea kayaking gear in and out of backpacks, dry sacks, boat bags, plastic bags, and nylon bags.  This, keep in mind, is after we packed up all of our food for two and a half months for twelve people into plastic bags for several hours with some sort of dub step music playing.

None of us had met before, although some had chatted on a yahoo group organized by someone’s mother.  We made small talk as we realized the only people we would have significant contact with for 78 days was our small group of ten plus two instructors.  500 grams of cocoa, 500 grams of dried mangos, or 250 grams of a tang-like sugary substance plunged into various sized plastic bags.  Dub step did not really seem to fit with a ranch style house with a barn and shipping containers scattered about, but no one dared to change it.

In two days, the staff shoved us on a NOLS information super highway and overloaded our brains with procedures, schedules, policies, and general information.  One that got hammered in pretty well right from the get-go: “Don’t drink or do drugs…or you’re gone, period.”  At that point, I already desperately wanted a beer or a good shot of whisky.  That would have to wait until December.

Another time I could have used a good beer came after they decided to have us practice crossing rivers.  The specimen river had a name in Maori that meant “freezing water” and came directly from a glacier.  We also had the wonderful opportunity to swim with a pack on it.  Only thought afterward: beer beer beer.  Nope.

Amongst other “Welcome to NOLS” speeches, the four girls in our group had the pleasure of listening to Sean, one of our instructors, take us aside and try to give us a “feminine hygiene” talk.  Clearly, he tried exceptionally hard to explain how to not get infections as if he knew, but could not possibly relate fully.  It only came off slightly awkward.

After a delicious dinner, we learned how to set up the “Ferrari” of Swiss Mountaineering tents.  Even then, I found myself super leery of them…too many strings and they didn’t seem too sturdy.  Sure.  I want my hammock was the only thought going through my mind.

Setting off for the Marbourgh Sounds at the top of the South Island, we continued talking and swapping a few stories, getting to know each other, while listening to the Mumford & Sons album on repeat since we could all agree on it.  I now can sing along with just about every song.  The bus broke down on the way there as well.  Bus mechanical issues: take one.

Eventually, we made it to Cowshed Bay where we would embark on our adventure.

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Hello everyone!

I have been in New Zealand for three months on a pretty sweet adventure, or as the Kiwi’s say, “sweet as!”  Due to technological issues, not as many posts went up during my incommunicado time.  Have no fears!  I have come back to the land of internet and will be writing up super crazy, awesome stories from down under, maybe with some Adirondack stories mixed in until I start the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail) for the 2012 season.

Stay tuned!


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