What a Weekend Abroad Should be, and a Lack of Photos to Prove ItChristchurch, Spring 2012

When is the last time you had one of those moments? You know, the kind where you’re living in it, completely content, and in the back of your mind you know that there is not one place in the world that you would rather be than the place and state you’re in? People measure happiness and progress in life with a lot of different scales, including wealth, title, and achievement. But if you ask me, the best measurement possible for how well you’re doing is nothing more or less than the frequency of those “it can’t possibly get any better than this” moments. These moments come in a lot of shapes and sizes, and they evolve as you grow older. I imagine playing with your children or holding a new grandchild would be classified as some of the most powerful moments, but being who I am at the current time, my moments have presented themselves in other, simpler forms.  Often it can be watching the sunset from an Adirondack Peak (and a bottle of wine can't hurt), occasionally it can be experiences shared with close friends, and once in a while it can come from completely unexpected places. This weekend was my first genuine “it can’t get any better” moment in New Zealand, and it happened with a group of complete strangers. It is easy to spend all your time with a familiar group of friends, especially being so far away from home. But studying abroad is supposed to pull you out of your comfort zone, and I started to realize that I was very uncomfortable with being so comfortable. So at the last minute, I changed my plans from a day hike in Christchurch with friends to the Bushcraft Weekend with CUTC (Canterbury University Tramping Club). Almost twenty of us ventured out to a hut in the Mt. Thomas Forest Region of Canterbury, where we left our belongings, climbed 1080 meters along a mountain ridge, and looped back around to spend the night and learn a little more about backcountry survival and etiquette in New Zealand (which I’ll discuss a little in the end of this post, to spare my dorky excitement over these differences for those of you that don’t spend as much time outdoors/those of you who don’t making a living educating people on how to spend their time outdoors). Long story short, the night ended with an incredible campfire by the river with a sky filled with more stars than I have ever seen before. While this is more than enough to put a smile on my face, the best part was the people. I was the only American, and in addition to a few Kiwis (New Zealanders), fellow club members came from the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Holland, Shanghai, Austria, and Finland. I’ve always said one of the reasons I love the woods is that it has the power to put everyone on the same level: it doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, from the city or the country- either you’re prepared to handle the elements or you’re not, and that’s all that matters. Turns out it does the same thing with nationality; after a day of crossing rivers and shuffling up steep hills with new friends from all over the world, this fire was the perfect way to reflect on a shared experience with a dozen different accents. I took far less pictures this weekend than I normally do because sometimes it is better to be selfish and enjoy the moment for yourself, rather than trying to document it for everyone else. While around the fire, I had a conversation with an Austrian who I had spent the day hiking with. He served in the military for six years prior to coming to Christchurch, and he was talking to me about parachuting and jumping out of airplanes. This got me thinking about Band of Brothers and World War II- where does the hate come from to cause that amount of destruction?  There is no doubt in my mind that the outcome of that war could have been very different if someone had taken all the major political figures of the time and put them around a campfire with a bottle of Brandy and a bag of marshmallows (of course, Hitler would have benefited from some serious psychotherapy, but that’s besides the point…). In conclusion, there is so much beauty in simplicity. Society would be going in a much better direction if we all remembered that a little more often… As always, thank you for your time. And for all of my Adirondack hiking friends and anyone else who may be interested, see below for some differences that have taken some serious getting used to here. Enjoy! -jmk   New York Hiking vs. New Zealand Tramping NY: We can’t give you a time estimate! NZ: Wrong- we can give you a time estimate. In fact, that is the only thing we’re giving you. Every sign for every track lists the destination and the time to get there, but it says nothing about elevation or mileage. Good luck! NY: Bear Resistant Food Canisters are mandatory when camping in the backcountry! NZ: Don’t step on any sheep. Besides that, there’s nothing to worry about. NY: If you don’t like Guardia, purify your water. NZ: What is that funny looking pump thing for? NY: Please stay on the canter of the trail, especially in the fragile alpine zone! NZ: Trail? NY: That river may be past your knees now, so you can’t go on that trail. NZ: This river may be close to your shoulders, make sure everything in your pack is in a waterproof bag. Might not be a bad idea to cross with someone else so you don’t get carried away, current looks kind of strong… NY: Yes, Marcy is a difficult hike so you need to be in good physical condition. We can’t give you a time estimate but plan on being out all day. NZ: Okay today we’re doing an easy-medium difficulty hike. Its only 1200 meters (4000 feet) of elevation gain, we should summit in under 3 hours. (um… WHAT.)  
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1 Comment

  1. So nice to hear you had an amazing easter break as well, jackie! I spent some time in the mountains (although driving around, not hiking) and found it equally as breathtaking and contemplative. Maybe it’s a mountain thing: they’re so huge, it’s hard not to think about the meaning of life, right?

    Also visited Christchurch, but you guys were on your IES trip to Raro already. I loved spending time in your home, though. A lot of sadness, but a lot of hope as well.

    Love reading your thoughts. Cheers!

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