100km and still walking – just! Oxfam Trailwalk 2015

Four female walkers at the start of the Oxfam Trailwalk event.  It is dark as it is early in the morning.
Counting down to the start – a hurried photo!

I did it!  WE did it! The much blogged about Oxfamtrailwalk NZ 2015 is done and dusted bar the sore feet and blisters. It was not uneventful – nervousness, excitement, pain, tears, frustration, disappointment, disaster, elation, adrenalin, determination – just to name but a few of the emotions we felt as we journeyed from Whangamata Road Landing strip to Taupo Domain.

Our first tears and frustration came when we got lost on the way to the event!  Then the adrenalin rush as the countdown was on and we were still in the loo; 7 we ran out, 6 still re-arranging our knickers, 5 held hands and 4, 3, 2 wove through the throng  and 1, we were officially off.  We picked our way in the half light of a chilly March morning over the uneven ground, passing teams on our way, “Skirts coming through!” “Mad women, on their way!” shrieking and laughing in near hysteria that we had actually made it!  As we reached the mountain bike track and the path narrowed, going was a little slower but the passing protocol was cheerfully adhered to.  “Passing on your right!”  “You go girls”, “Good luck”, “Have a great day” “Love your skirts, so cute!” (from the chicks) “Nice skirts, girls” (from the guys – with a look and a tone that went with it!) “What’s your team name?” “Cool, nice one. Catch you later!”

As the field thinned out we found ourselves amongst teams going a similar speed to us and started playing team tag.  We were feeling great.  My quads were screaming as we pretty much ran the first leg but it trended downhill and we knew that we wanted to get a good start and make the most of the Grade 2 legs early on to have some time in the bag for the harder legs to come.

The sun had come up and it was going to be a beautiful day;  the promised rain didn’t come until the next day and boy, were we thankful for that!  Then, CRASH!  Jo went down like the proverbial! She was behind me as we ran and picked our way over the roots on the baked sandy path and tripped and fell headlong.  It didn’t look good; she was twisted on her back holding her neck.  But, no, all good, she turned over, dusted herself down gave herself a shake and took off. Adrenalin was clearly pumping as we could hardly keep up!

We met our support team at Kinloch, 22km in.  A quick massage, some blister care for Debbie, take on some food – peanut butter and honey sarnies for me – some electrolytes and we were on our way again.  The 16km on the mountain bike track over to Whakaipo Bay winds its way over the headland and down again in the bush.  We ran and walked in equal measure staying cool in the trees despite the sun getting ever hotter.  Glimpses of a glassy Lake Taupo’s deep blue waters at high points reminded us that there was a world outside our challenge!  Our support crew were a welcome sight in Whakaipo Bay but just a quick refuel and then we were off again.

4 female walkers at the highest point of the Oxfam Trailwalk. Clouds in a sunny sky.
At the trig point Leg 4

Over the hills and far away.  Less running now, uneven ground, across fields, uphill to the trig point, downhill on the Scoria Road, through the quarry and into Taupo.  It was more of a battle but we had passed some milestones; a quarter of the way, a third of the way and now the halfway point had been reached.  Jo was really starting to struggle though.  She hadn’t mentioned it at the time but admitted during Leg 4 that she had been very woozy during Leg 3 following her fall.  Her knees were sore and she took to her walking poles for Leg 5 (so did I as my quads were complaining!).  Leg 5 took us along the river to Huka Falls and a checkpoint with no support crew.  Jo was finding it hard going, her knee was hardly bending and every downhill stretch was painful for her. We were worried. Camaraderie from other teams kept us going.  The support out there was fantastic.

4 female walkers walking along a gravel road. cloudy sky
Half way point on Scoria Road

As we ventured into the pine forest that would lead us to the Wairake Resort and Checkpoint 6 there was an eerie silence.  The ground of dead pine needles was soft underfoot and our feet made no sound as we marched across it.  The trees towered tall and sombre above and around us as the sky between grew dark.  No birds sang and we could neither see nor hear any other teams.  The path took us up and down, looping through and back on ourselves and seemed to go on for ever.  We grew weary of the silence, of the darkness and we were increasingly worried about Jo. Eventually she stopped.  Nauseous, sleepy, in pain but still determined to keep going.  Frustrated, disappointed.  We had to make a call.

We waited as night fell in forest.  Jo wrapped in warm clothes and survival blankets, drifting in an out of half consciousness as I kept her talking, Debbie and the other Jo directing teams around our friend as they caught us up and went past.  We were getting cold too and still rescue didn’t come.  Conflicting emotions; on the one hand real worry about our friend and the time it was taking to get help to her, on the other frustration at the time we were losing.  It isn’t easy to face up to those selfish thoughts but we had worked so hard and we had done so well so far and were easily on time for our sub 18 hour target.

An hour later, after several phone calls with Oxfam Support, Civil Defence and our support crew and still no sign of rescue, Jo’s husband arrived.  We left them in sombre mood, cold, damp and hungry, picked ourselves up and jogged in the darkness to Checkpoint 6.  Hot food, more fluids and a bit of a pep talk to get our heads back into a good space.  Up until now we had sung our way into every checkpoint.  Our skirts and our song were becoming a feature!  Not this time, we were just too flat.  Fleeting thoughts of packing it all in came and went.  Jo would have been mad as hell if we didn’t continue.  So we forgot the 69km we had already done.  This was a 30km walk.  We’d done plenty of those in training.  Get up and get out there!

The 18km of Leg 7 was interminable.  Darkness and not actually knowing where the hell we were made the kilometres pass by very slowly.  We prayed that we had missed a km marker or two and that the next one would say we were a couple of kms further on.  But no.  We felt like we were making a good pace and we were passing the teams that had passed us in the forest but those kms didn’t seem to be going down and we seemed to be going round in circles.  And don’t mention the swede fields!

We sang our way into Checkpoint 7, loud and heartily.

“We are the Pat and Posties Team.

We are strong and we are mean.

Walking the trail in our little skirts.

‘Cos we know the hundy hurts!”

(US Army marching style, me leading the others repeating!)

Nearly there.  I, for one, was tearful.  We had had to dig deep for that leg.  Last refuelling – my boys had made me a hot cup of coffee – never has a coffee tasted so good!

Final leg. 12.3km.  Grade: Easy.  There is nothing easy about a final leg of a 100km walk!  Once again we were directed across fields, stumbling in the dark on uneven, wet grass searching for the glowsticks that were like candles in tin cans that marked the way.  It was heartening to have other teams to walk with at times and we provided mutual support in the darkness of the night. The lake front was a welcome sight – 4km to go – and there was Jo in the car with Doug!  So happy that she was ok.  What an adrenaline rush – come on, we can do it girls!  Our support crew had organised a staged re-entry for us! Paul and Aonghas along the lake front (and the runaway campervan!) spurred us on to go up a gear,  Lachlan met us as we rounded the corner for the last set of steps (cruel, cruel trick!) and the rest of the team were reassembled as we came into the finishing chute.  “We are the Pat and Posties team…..”  Once more as loud as we could!

A bitter sweet ending.  So glad that we finished.  So sad that we didn’t all make it all together.

Thank you “Pat and the Posties”; Postmaster General; Debbie, Courrier Post; Jo M, Fast Post; Jo P, Digi Post; Anne

And a huge shout out to the support crew of Lachlan, Aonghas, Rob, Doug and Paul.  We couldn’t have done it without you!

A Tale of Great Barrier Island by Gus

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For five weeks in June and July 2014 I went with 29 other boys and two teachers from school to Great Barrier Island  in the Hauraki Gulf.  We were there to learn some new skills, have fun, learn about the community who live there and be challenged.

I flew on to Great Barrier Island (GBI) on a tiny little plane, it looked and felt dodgy.  It was a noisy plane so we got given ear muffs.  Mr Hall,  Aaron and I landed at GBI “international” airport, and drove about 1h to Orama.  We arrived at night and put our bags in cabins and went to tea.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe went on two long uphill walks on Saturday and Sunday with just the teachers because the OPC staff were having a break from the girls trip.  Coopers Castle was a long, very steep walk with great views at the top.  We had to keep away from the edge because there was a big cliff with a huge drop but there was a great view over Okiwi.  It was hard to walk up because it was so steep and we had to scramble parts of it.  On Monday we had the power and water tour and it showed us that Orama gets their water from a stream and power from a generator because they don’t have mains electricity.

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Next Monday we went on our first expedition.  My group walked one and a half hours to a bay.  We found a big dead  mako shark on the beach. and mussel barrels that we kept throwing into the sea and they would float back into shore. We descoverd some good climbing rocks that we scrambled on. We also found some kina it looked like a hard spiky ball but you open it with 2 spoons and there is a mussle like fish inside which Teina ate. Mitchell also caught a rat with his bare hands and strangled it to death.

When we got back to Orama it started raining that night. It got really windy and rainy on Wednesday.  We practised how to belay then went white water rafting (aka brown water floating) down the so-called stream that became a river.  It wasn’t very fun and we got  cold,  wet and numb and then we had to carry the kayaks back to the trailer .

On Wednesday night at 11:59 pm we were awoken from our sleep and were evacuated to the Orama lounge because there was a big storm.  We had to get dressed quickly – luckily I had my waterproof trousers so I pulled them on over my fat pants, grabbed my sleeping bag and rain jacket and followed the adult with the torch – we had no idea where we were going because it was dark and wild.  It was tipping it down with rain, my cabin was shaking in the wind. it was kind of scary but not really, it was more exciting than scary.  In the morning  there was mud everywhere, tractors,  trees and a generator were washed out to sea.  We sat in Orama lounge all day because it was too dangerous to go outside because of all the debris around.teenage boys holding mops as if they were soldiers

The next day we helped Orama clean up. My group had the hardest task of cleaning the classroom and gym, which had knee deep mud and took 3 days to get out of the classroom. Then we ripped up the carpet and cleaned the walls. The tables and the couches had been washed from the classroom through the gym and into the foyer on the other side of the gym. I found my student book outside with mud all through it and soaking wet.

great barrier clean up

My group spent 4 days shoveling mud while group 3 went to Glenfern and got on TV, but luckily TV3  came to Orama for a little bit and we were on TV too. Glenfern is an island wildlife sanctuary that Scott and Emma look after, they are trying to regenerate the native populations of NZ  birds and skinks.  I found a Chevron Skink buried in the mud at Glenfern; they are very rare and so it was quite exciting finding one. 10502489_242198045974132_7513004355070039754_n

Shoveling mud was boring but seeing what we accomplished felt great. Orama lounge became our new hang out space which was way cooler than the old classroom. Unfortunately, there wasn’t another gym that we could use.

Sea kayaking was the most challenging activity and I didn’t really like it because we got wet and cold.  The day we did it, it was really windy, there were salty big waves and a big swell.  We had to turn back because it was too rough – the waves were 3m high they had big white caps and the wind was 50 knots gusting to 65 knots.

I loved coasteering, it was so much fun and I want to do it again.  It was epic getting pulled in and pushed out in the swell.  I jumped in off some rocks that were 9m high.  I did a swan dive off a 4m high rock – I was a bit sore after the swan dive but it was great fun.

10336627_236232233237380_5175793285606235730_nMy favourite was surf kayaking and I really want to do it again.  It was brilliant  catching the waves and getting tipped!  I got quite good at it and I came 3rd in competition but I got the highest score  of 7.5.  We had to different heats and do tricks but it was timed and I lost in the semi-final.

Sailing was fun but scary because we were in the middle of the ocean with big waves and it felt like we were going to flip.  I didn’t want to be the first to capsize but once we did, we realised that it was quite good fun and we did it lots!  The thing is once you flip you aren’t supposed to stay in the boat or the boat ends up completely upside down.  But my partner stayed in the boat and it completely tipped it so then we had to stand on top of the upside down boat to try to get it back the right way up!  It was hard but we did it.

All growed up…

Boys in ocean with mountain in backgroundOver the last few weeks we have been gearing up to losing our first born to the big wide world. D Day is almost upon us and I fear I have not really got my head around the idea that tomorrow we will be at Auckland airport waving Lachlan goodbye. People keep saying to me how hard it is and how I must be feeling empty at the thought of him going.  I am feeling a little bewildered that I am not feeling those things!  Maybe I have just been so busy to have time to think, or maybe I have not been allowing myself to think as a self-preservation/defence mechanism?  Maybe it will hit me like a great big slam-dunk tomorrow when the actual parting happens, or a week or two down the track when the hole he leaves becomes more apparent?  (will I miss the trail of detritus he leaves in his wake…the wet towels in the bathroom, the kitchen cupboard doors left open following a hungry boy’s search for food, the lights left on at night, the empty beer bottles and coke cans, the chocolate wrappers and the week old mouldy cups of half drunk tea in his bedroom?!)

I will miss his sense of humour, the small gestures of care and love that an embarassed 18 yr old tries to hide,(like when he bought me a little elephant back from a trip to Raglan with his mates) the snatched moments of real conversation and closeness that sadly haven’t happened as much as any of us would like given the demands of work, study and sporting commitments, and Kate, his girlfriend!  I seem to remember at a similar age preferring to spend time with the love of my life rather then with my parents!  But, I ask you, who at that age wouldn’t?  two people sitting on the end of the wharf

We have just had a lovely evening all together along with Kate out at Raglan.  A splash in the ocean – once he decided it wasn’t too “uncool” to let himself go and have a swim, followed by fish and chips at the wharf.  The slightly incongruous bonus of a live band at a fish and chip shop added to the experience.

We think that he is ready to break out of the coccoon of home and it is time for him to find his place in the world?  I think, I know, that he is perfectly capable of fending for himself.  Yes, he is young, only eighteen, but he can cook, wash his clothes, he knows his way around airports, bus stations, booking into hostels and he communicates well with people (other than his parents who are the recipients of grunts and mumbles!). He is also fairly sensible on the whole given his age and experience and has a healthy respect for danger; he has an open outlook on life and is up for a challenge.  

We do worry about outside influences that may lead him into doing stuff that may be risky or dangerous, we worry that in a desire to fit in he might do something against his better judgement, we worry that without the structure of home he may fall prey to a lifestyle that is not “good”.  However, we also know that we have to let him go and find out all those things for himself.  

We have never (I hope) been over-protective parents; we have provided opportunities for risk-taking, challenge, exploration, opportunities for our boys to test themselves, their skills and their courage.  But we have always been close at hand to catch them when /if they fall.  Canada is a long way away – who will be there to catch my baby if he falls?  But he won’t. We have faith in him, in his capability to look after himself, to do what is right for him.

Our baby is ready to fly the nest. He is all growed up.