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Tongariro Crossing

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“You can be Frodo and I’ll be Sam.”

“That’s nice of you.”

“Not really. I get to keep all my fingers.”

—–

“If it rains,” Jef said, as the bus rumbled through the early-morning mist, “this will really suck.”

I pulled my coat closer and tried to pretend it wasn’t freezing. “It won’t rain.”

“How do you know?”

“Because I don’t want it to.”

You all may scoff, but I’ve been living by this strategy for many years now, and I’m here to tell you that blind optimism pays off.

First, even if you’re wrong, you didn’t spend any time worrying about something you’d later have to experience anyway. And second, if you’re right, you get to “I told you so” everyone around you. This seems to especially annoy people who do research and check weather reports and generally prepare for their lives, rather than just charging blindly into them. It’s very satisfying.

Also, I happened to be right.

—–

The devil’s staircase wasn’t so bad. I was warned, at least. We sat down at the bottom, ate a banana, drank some water. Jef said to me, “this is going to last about 45 minutes. I recommend you don’t look up.”

He also said, “this is the only toilet until this afternoon.”

I drank slightly less water. And then I looked up, because he’s not the boss of me, and immediately wished I hadn’t. It was a long way up. Past the clouds. Literally PAST THE CLOUDS.

We were climbing TO THE SKY. An actual, literal stairway to heaven. Poetic licence aside, the song made it sound more fun. The sky is quite a long way up.

We got stuck behind a five-year-old. I didn’t want to ask in case Jef disagreed, but I felt no compunction whatsoever to pass him. In fact, as we climbed and climbed (and climbed) I blessed his stumpy little legs and lack of focus. I don’t think you need to complicate 45 minutes of STRAIGHT UP by adding speed to the mix.

(I wouldn’t necessarily advocate taking a small child with you just to set a pace, but it’s worth keeping in mind if you happen to have one handy.)

On top of the world. Like, seriously.
—–
The sensation that we’d climbed through the sky itself only persisted as we trekked through the first crater. It’s a dormant volcano, but it feels like the surface of the moon.

—–

The top of the plateau was blowing a gale. Since getting off this involved climbing a treacherous heap of rock and scree which slid and moved under your feet, the frigid wind was an added bonus. Would I slip first, or be blown away?

The lack of a banana and a pep-talk made this bit worse than the stairs.

The other side was stinking hot. A mountain of loose scree lead down to the emerald lakes. Basically, you dug your heels in and slid.

Slide; slidees; pretty lakes.
When I’d slip-slid my way to the bottom, we sat down to empty our shoes of the kilogram of loose rock and grit we’d acquired in our descent (I’m still spreading that mountain around Wellington every time I go for a run) and eat our packed lunch.

I sipped my juice box and nibbled my fun-size chips, watching the sun sparkling on the turquoise lakes, gentle puffs of sulphurous steam wafting from the rocks around them.

(I’m sure there are reasons why the lakes are the colours they are, and I’m sure they’re interesting, but that’s content for a different blogger. One who looks things up and informs her readers and whatever. The kind of blogger who doesn’t finish sentences with “and whatever”.)

(This is not to imply that I don’t look things up. I LOVE to look things up. I spent some time this very week looking up pictures of pineapples growing in fields. Shit’ll blow your mind.)

(Also, if you didn’t gather it from the real estate, the packed lunch was a highlight. I don’t know what it is about a homemade sandwich in a snaplock bag, but man, whatever-it-is is AWESOME.)

—–

I was excited to get to the downhill part, but to be honest, the downhill was less fun. There was less happening. My legs didn’t want to divorce themselves from the rest of me. My ass wasn’t screaming in frozen agony. I wasn’t about to be blown off the side of a mountain. It was 10km of gentle, sunny descent, through samey scrub and marked-out steps. The solitary bathroom on the track was a personal high point (more because I couldn’t stop thinking about how there was nowhere to pee, rather than because I actually needed to pee), but by kilometre 15, my legs were frankly starting to get bored of holding the rest of me up.

We kept trying to walk slower, aware the bus came in seven hours and we were tracking to finish in six. It didn’t work. I’m pathologically incapable of walking slowly (sometimes, to their great annoyance, I keep up with my gentler-paced friends by lunging alongside them), and Jef is the only person I know who walks faster than I do. We tried to weave back and forth, or get stuck behind the larger tourists, or learn how to “amble”. None of it was very successful.

—–

Finally, after an hour of “two minutes” and “it’s around this bend, I swear” and “no, really – two minutes”, we emerged into the car park at the end of the crossing. It was stinking hot. People lay around, massaging their feet or slumped in exhausted heaps against their packs. I’d started pulling my shoes off, excited at the prospect of an hour-long wait for the bus with nothing to do but finish my collection of snacks and try not to aggravate my sunburn, when Jef realised he’d dropped his Ray-Bans.

They could have been anywhere in 20 kilometres of forest and mountain and track. But no sooner had he collected his shit back up and staggered to his feet to start retracing his steps than a loud, overweight British tourist came waltzing out of the woods with them.

“Hey,” Jef said. “Those are mine. Thanks!”

The girl held them closer. “They look real.”

“They are real.”

She hesitated, drawing away slightly. “They’re really nice glasses.”

“I know,” Jef said. “That’s why I bought them.”

She didn’t want to give them back. The words “finders keepers” were seconds from her lips. Luckily, everyone was too tired for a punch-up. Jef pulled them from her grasping fingers, and they retreated to opposite ends of the parking lot to glare at each other and wait for the bus.

This has become a trend in our mountain adventures. Last time we ventured to this corner of the country together, he somehow managed to drop his iPhone in the street on the way into a café. When he realised and I called it, the person eating breakfast at the next table answered. He’d been using it to play Tiny Wings as he ate his eggs.

I’m predicting that on our next adventure, someone will steal his car and then accidentally run him over with it. I can’t wait to see how it unfolds.

—–

Back in town, it was barely 4pm. We went looking for the pub, which was completely empty. We were the only people on the street. The two shops were closed. Out in the wilderness, it was wall-to-wall humanity. Here in town, no one. Not even tumbleweeds.

I drank a cider in odd, cavernous silence. And then I slept for an extremely long time. 

Success!

—–

The other day:


Me: I’m trying to write a blog about Tongariro. What should I say?
Jef: You could talk about how long it is, the different lakes, Mount Doom…
Me: Like, facts?
Jef: Uh, yeah. Facts.
Me: Yeah… nah.
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Writer of things. Annoyer of cats.

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