In our first post, we talked about how the idea for this blog came around. We were on a day-long hike up and over a volcano in New Zealand, when we first started to envision a blog that focuses on what we love to do the most. But lest you think that we are accomplished hikers, who easily scamper up and down formidable pieces of nature while deep in conversation without a bat of an eye, I’m going to share with you what was happening that day when we weren’t talking about the blog.
I hadn’t really asked Patrick if he wanted to do this day-long hike. I just slid it into the itinerary when he wasn’t looking, and then we promptly forgot about it until we were actually driving to the national park. In hindsight, I should have done a bit more research. As we drove from Lake Taupo to Tongariro National Park, all of the trappings of civilization fell away, and we saw the volcano in the distance growing nearer and nearer. About 20 minutes away from the lodge, we realized that we might need food…or else we would be stuck paying the outrageous hotel restaurant prices. $30 for a pasta dish? No thank you.
When we returned to the hotel with our spoils from the closest gas station (20 miles away), we ran into the final group of hikers returning from the day’s trek. These slackers, who were returning 12 hours after departing that morning didn’t quite seem like slackers. They grasped onto their hiking poles as they hopped out of the van, with calves the size of my head, and they talked about how tough it was on their knees to go downhill for such a long time. We listened sympathetically, and absorbed none of what they were saying.
We awoke the next morning at 5:30am to whip up a quick breakfast and to prep for the hike. Patrick was ready in no time. I struggled out the door, throwing on my warmest long sleeve, sneakers untied, and hopped onto the van. The other 15 people in the van stared at us as we drove away…five minutes late. As we settled into our seats, and started to look around, we realized that we appeared a little different. Everyone else had hiking boots, walking sticks, waterproof pants and jackets…we had on sneakers, some basic running gear…your typical “urban walk in the park” outfits.
We were nervous, but when we got to the drop-off point, we grew a bit more confident. The land stretched out in front of us, and we set off at a leisurely pace, pointing out small waterfalls, babbling brooks, and funny looking plants. We even came up with the idea of a blog. We walked for an hour or two along the flat expanse before coming to the first test. Stairs stretched up an incline as far up as we could see, and we braced ourselves for the climb. After 60 minutes of huffing and puffing up stairs, we got to the top, relieved, only to realize that we were not actually at the top. I started to wish that I had read more than just the double-sided pamphlet that the hotel gave us the day before.
We realized just how high up we had climbed when we noticed the clouds below us. But when I turned to point out the cloud line to Patrick, I found him puffing away on his emergency inhaler. This marathon runner hadn’t used his inhaler in years. I got nervous—I was killing my husband before our honeymoon was even over. Once we both had caught our breath, we resumed the climb. As all of our fellow hikers glided on past us, hiking poles firmly in their grasp, we clawed our way to the top (on all fours, at times), rocks tumbling past us, fingers grasping for any crevice to keep us from falling backwards down the volcano.
You would think that when we reached the highest point, four hours into the hike, we would be exuberant. And we were (the view was absolutely incredible)…until we saw the path down. It was like standing at the top of a black diamond as a novice skier with no other way to get down the mountain. We started sliding down this nearly vertical path, running shoes slipping through six inches of ash and volcanic rock. Falling was inevitable. Patrick’s obscenities emerged louder and faster. I prayed that our marriage would last the descent. And, just as on our way up, our “friends” glided down past us again, as we simultaneously cursed and envied them and their walking sticks.
Upon reaching the bottom, we did not stop to celebrate that we were still alive. We did not pause to take in the emerald green lakes stretching in front of us, nor the fumaroles belching steam. We silently trudged on, determined just to get to the end, to get back to the hotel, to soak our aching feet, our bruised bums. Three hours later, we were still walking, stuck in a seemingly endless downhill path of switchbacks and uneven steps. We started to limp more than walk, blisters forming on the soles of our feet as we continued steadily downhill. There were no other humans in sight. At one point, we had to ford a river and I cursed myself for not paying enough attention when playing Oregon Trail. We began to question if we had wandered off the path. Our water supply was dwindling. The trail markers had disappeared. We were hungry, dehydrated, pissed off, and strongly disliking all forms of nature.
And then, without warning, the forest fell away and we came upon a tiny parking lot. Hikers lay scattered in the shade, hiking boots off, walking poles scattered. We had survived. And as we joined them on the ground to await the bus bringing us back to the hotel, we grew proud. Sore and dehydrated, but proud.
What did we learn from this? That we will never hike a volcano again. That a body can still be sore from a hike like that even a week later. That we will do our due diligence next time one of us suggests a “day hike.” But, from our greatest challenges come our best stories, our proudest experiences. We may never hike Tongariro again. But Machu Picchu is now at the top of our list for upcoming trips, and we’ll do a bit more research and will pack more appropriate gear when that trip comes around.