OK – a bit about me first, so you can flesh out the image in your mind’s eye. My name’s Matt, and I work with this jolly band of folk here at Active Adventures. I’m in my early thirties, and as one of my friends so helpfully put it, I’m no stranger to the Colonel’s bargain bucket.
I tip the scales at 107 kilos, or 235 lbs for those of you south of the border. That weight wouldn’t be so bad if I were the height of an NBA All-Star – sadly I’m only six foot tall.
Of course, it never used to be this way. In my BC (Before Car) days when the only pedals I knew were attached to my mountain bike, and my idea of late-night dining was heading to a restaurant at 7 in the evening, I was a very sprightly (albeit slightly pasty looking) 150lbs. But I digress…
Despite typically working on the South America side of matters, I thought it would be a great experience to see how things are done on our New Zealand trips. So, in high spirits I signed up to join a dozen or so travelers from all over the globe, all wanting to get into the fresh New Zealand air for two weeks of hiking, mountain biking and kayaking. Under the leadership of our guides Megan and Lauren, we arrived at start of the hike in Nelson Lakes National Park, with Lauren so kindly laying on a “nice surprise” for “the office junior”. This didn’t look good.
See, New Zealand has these awesome backcountry huts, set in the heart of the wilderness. Quite spartan in design, they typically don’t have electricity, but do have running water, and in many cases, mains gas. All you need to keep you fed and watered for a few days of awesome hiking, especially with Megan taking care of culinary matters. What is required though is a little bit of muscle to get it to the huts in the first instance. Now, it’s only fair that if you travel thousands of miles across a vast ocean, the last thing you want to do is to have to carry a load of gear up a hill. We get that, so it’s usually down to the guides to carry the lion’s share. But ever since we left Christchurch, Lauren and Megan had been really nice to me. Don’t get me wrong, they’re always nice. But you know when friends want something from you, and they turn up the charm to 11? I knew there was a reason for it. And so it came to pass when they gave me the extra gear I needed to fit in my pack. After I packed it, I tried to pick it up. It felt heavy enough to make a sherpa wince. Well, that’s how it felt to me since I am notorious for packing light…
So we head off, with the food and accoutrements for three days hiking. And we have 1000 metres of climb ahead of us. Although I often reassure clients that only about one percent of them think they are fit enough to join one of our trips yet everyone seems to manage just fine, I quickly realised that I’d been lying to myself all along. This was tough. (I was cursing!) Of course, had I had that reasonable level of fitness in the first place, I wouldn’t be in this sweat-soaked pickle.
As everyone else danced up the hill, with their packs looking less and less weighty as they disappeared into the distance, I was reminded of the figure of my “youth”, cutting swathes on the squash court, biking through forests (similar to the one I was now hiking through) with rarely a bead of sweat on my teenage brow. And now? I was bathing in the stuff, as the backpack pressed firmly and relentlessly into my back.
I put my head down, and remembered what I’d been told as a child by my uncle. “Stop trying to get to the top in one step! Small steps, one foot in front of the other!” Muttering under my breath about what an idiot he turned out to be – needlessly really as no one was around – I started to follow his advice, and it worked. It continued to be a humbling experience, with the hill getting steeper, my back getting damper. I was giving off so much vapour I was wondering if a rain cloud would form above my head. My morale was saved by not being the backmarker – Lauren had stuff to sort out with the vehicle, so pride was saved too!
When I got to the peak of the hill, I was greeted by Steve, Karen and Lisa – a cameraman, a chocolatier and a lawyer respectively. Surely, a great start to a joke? Anywho, with reassuring words from them, plus an opportunity to put the pack down for a minute and rehydrate (sooooooo important!), my spirits were lifted. And what about the view!!!!!! It made everything worth it, as is always the case. For my money, you just don’t get the same sense of wowness from say, an aeroplane window as you do from hiking up a hill under your own steam. It’s just in a class of its own.
After a good fifteen minutes taking in the view, I decided to soldier on. With gentle undulations to the hut, and the company and conversation of Karen the chocolatier (who introduced me to the phrase “shut UP!”) it was an utterly pleasurable experience. I’d conquered the hill, conquered my defeatist attitude to hiking with a 50lb pack, and taken in some of the most breathtaking scenery to date.
And the folks with the “less weighty” packs? I spoke too soon. Turns out they know how to have a good time – they were carrying bottles of wine!!!
Written by Matt