08/05/2009 - 08/23/2009 45 °F
I have had a lot of things swirling through my head lately. Not surprisingly the fact that my pace has all but screached to a halt these past two weeks has left me, for the first time in months, with time to just think. Since I lost my job in mid-March I can point to many factors that kind of made the lead up to the trip a whirlwind of issues. Once on the road I really did not stop to breathe for six weeks. Of course I took my time, and during the non-stop adventure of each day it felt as though I was relaxing and taking the whole experience in, but now that I have lived in Wanaka for two weeks I can say that only now have I truly stopped both physically and mentally to the point where I can sit back and ponder how I got from point A to here.
With that said, the stopping is a strange phenomenon. Ultimately, it has made me thankful that the once proposed idea of living in New Zealand and working here never came to fruition. Its not that I could not live here, its just that the stationary aspect of 'living' rather than 'traveling', now that I have experienced both, is not really what I was prepared to do. I am happy to have days here to rest and do nothing, days to just sit by the lake and take in the whole place. Perhaps it would be different if I was employed in some capacity down here but ultimately, the daily adventure that is backpacking, the planning, pushing yourself to see more and go further, brings about a natural high that the stationary life of working and living in one place, even if that place is 14,000 miles from home, fails to do. I am already itching to move on, and have picked up the guide book and begun planning the next stage of the journey to fill the free time I have here in Wanaka.
Onto some observations and updates about living down here.
1. The skiing[u] Oh boy. I guess I am thankful that I have had years and years of ski trips dampered by weather, years of impending snow storms ruined by a nice coating of rain, years of mid-February thaws to coincide with my week in Colorado because it makes what has happened down here much easier to laugh away as a simple fact all skiers and boarders acknowledge - you can't control the weather. If you recall I did have about 4 days down here that rivaled in various ways the best conditions I had ever had (kinda). About a week after my arrival, the freezing level rose to about 2000 meters (not good) and a storm rolled in dumping about 14 inches at the top of Treble Cone and rain at the base. For the next day or so the conditions were tolerable with wet, heavy snow that had yet to freeze meaning you could basically just bomb down everything on the mountain as it was soft, almost too soft. Unfortunately, immediately following this storm, the entire area saw a warm up that the locals say normally does not occur until September. Think highs in the mid to upper 50s lows in the 40s. The effect this has on a purely above-treeline mountain is it de-thaws the entire base. More than 2/3rds of the mountain has been shut for the last week due to extremely high avalanche concern. Basically one wrong turn on the base could trigger the entire winter's snowfall careening down the mountain. Already 3 heli-skiers have died in the area due to avalanches, so the warm up is dangerous and just shitty. All of what I would deem the interesting and challenging parts of Treble Cone have been closed. I am taking it all in stride. We had a cold front move in tonight and the entire mountain was briefly open all morning today. The snow is strange, in parts its a sugary and fun but heavy, in other parts its a crust that is impossible to turn in. I would be pissed if I was here for a two week ski vacation, but the nice thing about long term travel is that hiccups like this can never fully take the wind out of one's sails. And as I previously mentioned, I have quite a bit of experience with shit weather on ski trips....I'm still going to get in more than 10 ski days in the middle of August.
2. Chairlift conversations and Hitchhiking[u]. Both activities have provided the most fertile grounds for good conversations with locals and other vacationers down here. On the lifts I see largely Australian tourists, but its a total mix of Europeans, Canadians and astonishingly a few Americans as well. In fact Wanaka has a high concentration of Americans, mostly west coast, doing the double winter thing and heading back to the Rockies so ski back home in a few months. The only real negative on hitching is that it costs me about 30 minutes in the morning to hike over to the spot and wait a few minutes for a ride. The idea of giving out rides here is linked both to an eco-consciousness and to a general local townie friendliness. Locals feel as though they are supporting the 'green' culture of the area by helping people up the mountain and thereby reducing emissions. Vacationers pick up more for the conversation. Either way, the activity has netted me conversations with an array of personalities - chefs, financial analysts, mountain guides, lawyers, retirees, and on and on, just a different cross section of society each day.
I'l add more to the next update....