Disclaimer: whilst this story is based on real events, certain aspects are added for humour and creativity.
Thursday 1 May 2014 – Turangi, New Zealand.
5.00am – in my
tent ice house
Woken up by icicles biting my face off.
Am buried in sleeping bag wearing three jumpers, three t-shirts, a pair of thermal leggings and a pair of trousers. Am still freezing.
Now cursing lady in hiking store for convincing me that a minus degree sleeping bag wasn’t necessary. As an outdoors expert hailing from Europe she evidently took one look at my bingo wings and decided that I couldn’t carry the extra weight:
Discrimination against the unhealthy is an ongoing problem that I face in the hiking world.
Either that or the lady had no clue about New Zealand winter time.
I haven’t decided which.
Thinking wistfully of days gone by when I slept in dorm rooms surrounded by snoring sweaty backpackers.
Have a big hike today so must get some rest before I have to get up at the arse crack of dawn (5.30am).
The cold has made my nose run. Have got snot all over sleeping bag in my sleep.
This is why I am still single.
Desperately need to pee but cannot face concept of moving. Think my toes have possibly fallen off inside the three pairs of hiking socks I am wearing.
I really should go and pee. Whilst snot on the sleeping bag is excusable, piss in its depths just simply is not.
The urge to pee did not make it to the campsite toilets. Made it as far as the nearest tree before my bladder almost burst.
Thank fuck for winter’s lack of early morning sunshine. I am sure the tree will now flourish nicely.
Have somehow made my way to the campsite’s kitchen and am preparing nutritious breakfast of peanut butter on two cereal bars.
I take my hiking preparation very seriously:
I choose peanut butter for its high protein content. Not because I found it on the “free” shelf at the last hostel…obviously.
Must will myself to get out of layers and into hiking gear. Cannot shower as don’t have the time and am worried that certain parts of my body will freeze if exposed to such extreme temperatures.
Whilst un-used, I like my vagina the way it is.
Shuttle bus is arriving to pick me up at 6am and I am still wearing three t-shirts and two of my three jumpers.
Oh, must also make nutritious lunch for hike and take bottle of water.
Have managed to get out of clothes and brush teeth in equally cold campsite bathroom.
Must now quickly make lunch, pack bag and be ready for the bus.
Turns out that I did not buy a bottle of water. Am now facing the imminent problem of hiking for 6 to 8 hours without water.
Now frantically scouring the kitchen for a bottle of some kind.
Search in kitchen is not looking hopeful. Have so far only discovered dead flies in mugs and a discarded copy of that ever-so-classy British magazine, Nuts.
Have pocketed Nuts for late-night reading. Will persevere with search.
Hurrah! Have found a plastic bottle in recycling bin! Am slightly concerned about germs, but prospect of death from dehydration is more pressing so have quickly rinsed bottle out and will hope for the best.
Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck bus is scheduled to be here now. Still need to pack both lunch and bag.
Making lunch. Peanuts count as a vegetable, right?
Am stood wearing my very adult mittens by the campsite gates. The sun is not yet up and it is still bitterly cold – there is no feeling left in my fingers or toes.
What the fuck am I doing?
Bus finally arrives. Am greeted by a man who is far too jolly for this time of the morning. I reason that he must at least be used to these early risings. Or perhaps it is because he is over the age of 55. I am not sure.
Ladies of leisure such as myself simply do not expose ourselves to these hours for health reasons. Obviously.
Dave the bus driver makes jokes about the hour and whistles a tune to himself whilst getting his passenger lists in order.
I say a quick prayer to God for wine.
Have pulled up at a fancy bed and breakfast to pick up another two passengers.
The couple (aged anywhere between 55 and 65) are stood outside waiting looking very prepared and together with their neat trekking rucksacks, top of the line rain jackets and walking sticks.
I pick at my two sizes too big raincoat bought for $10 from the Salvation Army. Morals before fashion, I reason. Or maybe it’s account balance before fashion in my case. I’ll pretend it’s the former.
“Hiiii!” the lady says cheerfully as she steps on board. (All suspicions about the over 55 category are now confirmed.) Her Aussie accent is strong to my delicate English rose ears. “I’m Melanie and this is my husband, John,” she says.
John wears a tired expression.
Melanie’s perfectly styled golden hair glows in the dim light of the van.
Before we get along, Dave wants to make a quick well-rehearsed speech to give us better insight into the day ahead. Dave describes the possibility of treacherous snow and offers us some spikes to fix to the bottom of our shoes called crumpets (or whatever they’re called.)
Begin to wonder (not for the first time) why the hell I am volunteering to do this hike.
Melanie loves Dave the driver. Her voice goes up in pitch throughout her sentences only to fall down dramatically at the end as though the fun is just too much to bear. There are no surprises when she tells me that she works with an amateur dramatics society. She asks Dave a million questions as we go:
“What do you make of the possums out here, Dave?”
“Do you think the rain will hold off today, Dave?
“Dave, how many people will there be on the track today?” (Answer: hundreds.)
All in all though, I like Melanie. She asks me questions about my trip and talks about the days when she traveled Europe, and she really is lovely. However, I do wonder how her husband has lived with her excitement for all these years:
It brings hope to my singleton heart.
“And remember, folks, if you see any lava coming out of the top of that volcano…do you know what you do?” Dave is now saying jovially as he pulls us closer to the entrance. “You get your little legs and your run!”
Dave roars. Melanie shrieks and falls into peels of laughter. John chuckles quietly from his corner.
I smile half-heartedly and offer a prayer to God for neat vodka.
The sun is beginning to rise on the snow-capped mountains, tinting them with shades of burnt orange. It really is rather beautiful, even as my stomach growls with hunger.
Have finally arrived at the start of the track. Was expecting lots of people but there is only one small group of backpackers and ourselves. Dave assures us that many more will come in less than an hour’s time.
“Go on ahead of us,” Melanie insists as I adjust my backpack.
“Do you think I should borrow some of those crumpets?” I ask her quietly, stepping out into the snow.
“What, dear?” she asks blithely, stabbing her walking sticks into the ground. (Experts such as myself – hardcore hikers – do without such unnecessary luxuries. We don’t use walking stalks. Expensive walking sticks are only for those who are pretending to be proper hikers or trekkers.)
I sniff in the cold and stamp my shoes into the snow, testing for grip. “You know, those spikes for the bottom of my shoes?” I ask.
Melanie laughs kindly. “You mean crampons? I shouldn’t think so,” she says with a knowing smile. “I asked my husband earlier and he is used to all kinds of mountaineering. He says they shouldn’t be necessary.”
I decline Dave’s use of the crumpets and hoist my back onto my shoulders.
Everything is covered in a layer of snow: white, dark green and brown tinged with white and grey.
I awkwardly walk ahead of Melanie and John at high-speed to create enough distance. There is only one other person ahead of me, and she walks in a blue jacket with a bottle of water in her right hand. No backpack. No gloves. Nothing.
Apparently she has not heard the benefits of peanut butter.
Because I – bingo wings and all – am an omnipotent authority on nutrition.
The girl in the blue jacket is also only wearing fashionable running shoes.
Am I over-dressed in trekking shoes?
Cannot stop staring at the hills and mountains to my right as I walk.
Stop to take a million photos of the sun rising on the mountains.
As a budding travel journalist, will need quality images of my trekking endeavours.
Because I am now an independent, authoritative trekker.
Girl in blue jacket has stopped to take a piss in a port-a-loo.
Have stopped to take selfie with mountain.
As an authoritative, independent trekker and all that.
Have managed to capture my hairline but no mountain.
Now there is a lop-sided mountain but no selfie.
I look like a deformed goblin.
I can hear people behind me. Now look like a vain Instagramer.
We now have a deformed goblin with a hint of a mountain in the background.
Am not altogether sure whether this is journalistic or not but will have to do as Blue Girl is now out of toilet and the people behind are almost level with me.
Have resumed walking.
Oh, this is nice. Cannot understand fuss people were making about aching muscles and so-forth. Am an independent, lone trekker. Am walking alone through the snow, observing wildlife and becoming one with Self.
Like Steve Owen or Gandhi.
Perhaps I could sell these stories to Cosmopolitan? “Do not need to be fit or without a cake/beer belly to trek.”
In fact, I go as far as to would say that the Crossing is, to put it mildly, a piece of piss.
It’s a staircase.
A steep staircase encased with snow.
I am fucked.
God, where is that vodka?
And where the hell are my crumpets?
Don’t forget to read and have a laugh at Part 2 of the story!