The Reward of Long Courses

‘Hey! All you’ve done today is follow us around and say, ‘What do you think?’’

My students just realized that they had been hiking in the wrong direction for the last few hours, and they were pissed. It was mid-afternoon and there was no way that they would reach their intended campsite before dark. As their Instructors, we had been following them all day, just out of sight but never out of earshot. They quarreled for a few minutes before turning on us.”

An article on 22-Day courses for the OB USA Blog:

Why Are Long Courses So Rewarding?

The Execution of All Things

“and the charms that she got from travel are starting to wear off…”

Rilo Kiley was the soundtrack to the heady Maryland summer after high school graduation. I devoured their catalogue my senior year and that summer their music would drift, familiar and ignored, from the car speakers, barely audible over the open windows as I drove home from work in my mom’s car. Some nights I would stop at the edge of the middle school soccer field—the only place in that flat suburb with a view—and watch the heat lightning thump lazily across the heavy sky. My own veins electrified, my elbows covered in chocolate ice cream smears I wouldn’t find till the next morning. Only with air still and engine quiet would the lyrics reach me. And even then they were poorly filtered through a brain full of excitement, anticipation and fear. I had made my first independent life decision a few months earlier—I would not be going to college that fall—and was drunk on the feelings of freedom and iconoclasm.

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Rocky Soil: My Gap Year

“I cracked under the pressure to get straight A’s in as many honors and AP classes as possible. I cracked under the pressure to have meaningful summer experiences to write college entrance essays about. I cracked under the pressure to serve my community, be a good friend/daughter/sister, make some money and be thin and attractive. I cracked trying to be the best at all of my many extracurricular activities so I could show colleges I was both well-rounded and exceptional. I cracked trying to balance all that while simultaneously experimenting with all the world had to offer, while trying to discover who I was and who I wanted to be. Plus, hormones.” Continue reading

The Friend Zone

“Why couldn’t I have just loved bowling or had a wild passion for Sudoku?”

We were standing at our basecamp under Antisana, scoping the next day’s route through binoculars. Both Tyler and I were on the Ecuadorian Weight-Loss Plan. We had spent the last few days downing charcoal tablets and passing off the dwindling roll of toilet paper as we sprinted to the plastic barrel that was our camp latrine. Despite that, we had continued with our glacier travel training, learning and practicing all we could that week on the blue and snowy ice looming above us. We were exhausted. Everyone was. Continue reading

South Island, Part III: No Farther South

There is no automatic eject button. Even when you call in a helicopter, for those accidents in which you are concerned about loss of life or a limb, it can take Search and Rescue services hours to reach you. When you are out in the backcountry you are committed to doing and being on your own, recognizing that nothing ever goes according to plan. Continue reading

South Island, Part II: Shaken

We had made it through the Richmond Ranges, one of these most challenging, most remote sections of the Te Araroa.

After resupply boxes, a shower, and more food than should comfortably fit into one human in St. Arnaud, we again hit the trail! No rest days – I, at least, was too jazzed to sit still; I felt too powerful and strong after the Richmond Ranges to stop. We dove into the Nelson Lakes National Park knowing the weather report was not in our favor and not particularly caring. Continue reading

South Island, Part I: Beast Mode

When I first started gathering intel on the Te Araroa, a very obvious trend emerged: the South Island is better! So much so that some folks suggested I skip the North Island entirely and spend as much time as I could on its more mountainous, less populated, southerly sister. And it is true that the South Island is gorgeous. The rivers run clear clear clear and bright blue with glacial melt. The beech forests are drier and lighter than the dense rainforests of the North. I was back in the alpine frequently and I could feel that joy deep in my bones. The travel here was what I had expected of the entire trail: physically and emotionally taxing, remote, frequently stretching me beyond anything I have accomplished before. Continue reading

Elevator Story

“Do you have your elevator story down yet?”

By elevator story she meant the three minute version of the last five months I spent hiking the Te Araroa. I had landed in the US the day before and, although I was already making the rounds to see family and old friends, nothing was all that cohesive in my mind, let alone a charming, pithy synopsis of this experience that contained so much. Shooting from the hip, I talked about the differences between the two islands, how much we walked each day; I might have told an anecdote or two, but I can’t imagine that I built a picture in their minds that did the trail any justice. The next night my mom invited a few family friends over for drinks and story time – a casual welcome home. They were attentive listeners, asked a lot of questions about my experience – the highlights, the hardships, the mosts, bests, leasts and worsts. It was a fun evening but I felt my responses were disjointed, rambling, interrupting and running all over each other. It is the duty of the adventurer to sail off to the far-flung realms of the dragons and return home with jewels and gold, or at least stories. I have returned home empty-handed and tongue-tied. Continue reading

Tea Tag Makeover

“In the beginning is you, in the middle is you and in the end is you.”

I normally find the sage advice on these teabags inane and infuriating, but this one now lives in my wallet. I made this particular cup (or rattling metal pot, as the case was) of tea in a hut in the Nelson Lakes region. The rain had been pouring down for a day already, and with swollen rivers and gale-force winds battering the pass we needed to cross, we were stuck. I was antsy and cranky from the forced zero day; it is much easier on a hike like this to preoccupy yourself with the “how” of travel. It’s on days like this, stalled 2,000 kilometers in with 1,000 left to hike, that the much more complicated “why” creeps in. This little pearl of wisdom was the absolute last thing I wanted to hear and the absolute first thing I needed to. Continue reading

I can. I want to. I will.

Dear Friends and Family,

As many of you know, I am currently hiking across New Zealand on the Te Araroa trail. I started walking on November 16 and in the last four months have covered 2,600 km (1,600 miles) of forest, alpine, beaches, and high tussock. I have been lost and soaked to the bone; I have met incredible people and woken up to brilliant sunrises. I now have just over 400 km left to walk and a few weeks to do it in. As you know, I am doing this, in part, to raise money for the Gruffie Scholarship fund. 

So far I have raised $5,500 of my $8,000 goal. 

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