Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Partied out

As the birthdays celebrations draw to a close we reach a milestone in our trip. It is our last night of drinking and smoking on the pillowed bench seat with the long term locals. It's been a great laugh crawling into bed at 5am each night. Someone asked if we were in training for our big walk. We probably should be. I'd imagine people work out before walking 2000 km.

It's time to stop 'shagging flies' as the frenchies put it. Our custom bits of kit are ready to collect. We say goodbye Auckland and jump on a bus for the bush...

The thing about fire

NZ doesn't like it. There's bans absolutely everywhere. We've heard of everything from air ambulances coming in to do a rescue, prosecution, locals coming out with pitch forks and the imminent terror of forest fires.

I get all that. Fire can be bad if you're a twat. But the center piece of any bushcraft camp is a fire. It's the thing I love the most in this game. It's a source for life and transforms our earth into a home. Being told we can't have fire conjures up visions of misery and despair - it's like someone has stolen our raison d'ĂȘtre. The harsh and indiscriminate rulings are totally frustrating for people who know how to master it responsibly.

I don't know how we're going to deal with this. Hopefully we'll get a more realistic response from our bushcraft instructor next week and go from there. It's a reminder that trips are never what you expect. In the beginning this entire thing was going to be on horseback, now it looks looking more like a trudge through the dark. We search desperately for grey areas. I hang on every word. "Vision-slayers" I think to myself. Some say it's OK if you use common sense and I want to kiss them... we'll know more next week.

Got glint

Yellow street light glints against tumbling metal as keys to locked doors fall into my cold hand. The other hand carries tonight's dinner, the fingers strangled in taught plastic. I pass my local, only a short trot back to the house. This easy life carry me forever. All I need do is throw my hands in the air and shout “OK I surrender!”, and it will. It's so seductive, the bed, the dry, the resources on tap, the modern routine, the cradle of technology. Why wouldn't anyone accept all that? After all it's what our ancestors worked towards isn't it? Did they ever dream that the road of science could support so much? And did they ever imagine how such incredible discoveries could alter the mind?

The keys fly free again. I see life on easy street roll out in front of me like a soft, white, formulaic carpet. I begin to envisage those cushioned footsteps. But my instincts throw me to the side as if the carpet is electrified – the move is a knee-jerk reaction deep to the core, but not something I thoroughly understand. Is it a mistrust of technology, the curiosity of more natural trails, the fear of predictability, did I expect to feel the ground on my toes?

Again the keys shoot into the night sky. I find myself in the woods on a horse, walking across a country with everything we need to live strapped to our backs or in our heads. Our carpet is earth and water and knowledge keeps us alive.

The keys fall into my hand for the last time. I grin and swing the food bag while the hairs slowly rise on the back of my neck. It's a feeling I've missed, one I recognise as a breach – an idea has got in to my head and it's worming its way around transforming everything I think about. It's time to leave Bath.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Winding up

As with every mission into the unknown I cannot sleep, at all. My head occasionally spins with the things we haven't done yet. We have just enough time, 48 more hours in the city to finish preparing our kit, but it's still a lot of work getting it all pinned down. We know that anything weak will just manifest itself as dead weight, and both our packs are heavy-weight already.

Dossing around at the backpackers probably doesn't help but it's too much fun here. Everyone's totally friendly, and the national dish is pie.

Ozzie's found a hostel 100km out of Auckland which will move to as a staging post for upcoming birthdays and the start of whatever. And we've managed to book ourselves onto a government-run bushcraft course for a measly 80 bucks! That's about 5 times cheaper than anything in the UK, so we are, at last, quids in. And it means we've finally found the people who can put us onto that learning curve...

Tuesday, 10 November 2009


Vik is both complete genius and legend. He's the kinda guy:

who invented the Amstrad computer.
who knows that you can fire your car key fob's unlocking signal's megahertz more accurately if you do it from through the back of your head. It gives you an extra 10 meter range. The head acts a lens.
who can calculate precisely when and where a satellite will blink as its solar panels rotate towards the sun, then builds a mock laser cannon, aims its pointer where it will blink, then invites all his mates round so they can watch him seemingly blow a planet up.
who has radio controlled programmable light switches in a house in the rainforest.
who lives with 7 seven cats and a wonderful family who are genii too (they also know how to reprogram the light switches) who looked after me for four days as if I was one of their own.
who knew he could use himself as a radio frequency arial to extend the range of a signal he was trying to transmit.
who has a diverse range of teas and ideas.
whos workshop is an extended landing in the middle of the house, rammed to the back teeth with every bodging tool in the planet.
whos waistcoats pockets are brimming with cool gadgets.
who, when pissed off makes firecrackers and blows them up on the balcony.
who keeps a bag of black powder on his desk for making firecrackers. The bag is labelled black powder.
who mastered the art of creating his own sticky honey almonds.
who also has an excellent selection of airpistols and air rifles.
who specially cuts the piths from strawberries to make them sweeter for his wife.

Ladies and gentlemen I pronounce a hero in our lifetime: Vik. And I bestow upon thee the title Electroman.

We're not gay

This we have to justify at pretty much every counter we go to, coz it's looking bad! Two blokes going buying stuff together for a long romantic walk...

The fashion rule about not wearing the same things applies in the bush it seems, but we already have matching hammocks. And now with identical front balance pockets on our packs we're gonna be a laughing stock ;-)

Timmy B and I get this a lot. It usually opens up to break an awkward pause: "... but we're not gay?!". And then it's a And then it's a race to the dig in... "But he is ;-)". Always gets a laff.

Shopping bags

I don't shop, unless it's for kit. And then I'm a shopper. Its after hours of research and advice and going round in circles. But it's worth it because when I finally find what I'm looking for it's a massive relief because it means I don't have to make it.

As we spend our last few days in Auckland city, Ozzie and I bus around collecting our final essentials. We're recommended Katmandu - a chain of outdoor shops which we spend all of 10 minutes in there before walking out in disgust. I wouldn't trust my life with any of the kit in there, or any of the staff.

Luckily we find Bivouac. A mountaineering outfitters with guys who know their stuff. They only sell quality and we invest in a lot of merino wool and super-light expedition kit. My plate is a single sheet of plastic which, with a bit of origami, turns into a bowl. My plate even has a 10 year guarantee!

That's the thing with this game. You don't shop, you invest.

Monday, 9 November 2009

The wake up

We are lost. We have been hacking for days through the bush, and on returning, have missed our route. We have tried to correct but only worsened our situation, to a point where we have no idea where we are. We have no maps, we were relying on memory for the return route. The nearest human is an eternity away, and has no clue we're in trouble. We camp and take it turn to do recce's to find the main trail again but with no success. Each day our sparse supplies dwindle and our decisions are dogged with fear. We have jumped in at the deep end with no idea how to swim and begin to drown in a state of hysteria. Desperately searching for a way out I can only see the power of the bush sweeping over us like a tsunami: the horizon rolls up, trees, valleys and sky all swallow us as one terrifying mass. We are nothing to nature.

I wake up, sweating.

Jesus. I tell Ozzie the vision on the bus today.

I have been lost before. It was in the fog, in the wild, and that was bad. Nothing can really describe the trauma of an epic like getting lost. You feel it in your stomache, it makes you want to puke, the perception of reality changes as you realise that your doomed trajectory converges towards one thing and one thing only. The ultimate price.

People don't get dangerously lost in the UK. If you do a full day's hike in any one direction you're guaranteed to find a road. That's what happens when 61 million people live on a small island. But the population here is 4.3 million, living in the same area, and 90% live on the north island. So for south island doing a hike through the bush is a bit like setting sail into an ocean - it's a committment. This is not Somerset. Pockets of civilisation are disparate and this place has notched up a lot of naive tourists who've strayed from the trail.

I vow not to be one of them. No epics. We'll get fighting fit first spending a couple of months toughening up on the trails and tuning our kit. Then, when we're ready, we'll dip our toes. Walk out a short way for a night within visible distance perhaps and slowly build up. And whatever happens we'll have the distress beacon.

Two dreams collide. And the romantic one just got kicked into A&E. I have wounds to lick, but it's been a big wake up call. People spend their lives here learning to expedition in the bush. They grow up doing it. We need to find them. Because if the romantic vision of surviving in the wild is ever to recover we have a serious learning curve ahead.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

New roots

I miss my trees. I don't recognise anything here. I am looking at completely foreign plants with no clue as to how to use them. I have to start again completely from scratch. So far I have learnt nikau, ponga, kawakawa, bushman's friend, flax, tangleweed, white wood, reamu, cabbage tree, tea tree or manuca, nostercian and kauri.

I find myself longing to see a soft, pawing, green leaf from a twisted oak, or the dry orange litter from some a stand of beach. Where are my have all my trees gone - why, when I said goodbye to my family and friends, did I not also say goodbye to you too?

Vik's back yard

I am led through lush midnight jungle up a ravine along a narrow coastal path. We turn the corner to see the valley decorated with hundreds of glow worms. They sit as if they were air-drops of green, frozen in time. Trying to describe the beauty of this is pointless. Just imagine.

Skinny ozzie

Ozzie is 14kgs lighter after malnutrician in Madagascar. He'd had a hard time finding the food. Jesus, I think to myself, training in the Pennines led me to the same conclusion. Food's gonna be the biggee. Fortunately I have a trick up my sleeve. Front loading balance pockets (thanks to AK). See camp illustration below.

These 'Aarn' packs will increase our food carrying capacity to about 30 litres, and simulatenously reduce back strain by shifting the centre of gravity closer to the pelvis.

That, and I've found these beauties are sold everywhere... 700 calories per pack.

See Tim, aka Ozzie

Out of the corner of my eye I see Ozzie walk into my backpacker's reception. The plan is now real. Everything so far has worked. All logistics from the past 6 months have effectively led up to this, as one of the milestones on the adventure of a lifetime. And with Ozzie to share the same dream with, this is going to be kick ass. Most people ask who I'm doing the trip with, and how I'm going to cope with the psychology. But as I slap him on the back I think yeah, this bloke's class. My first reaction when I imagined it was that there's few people in the world I'd rather go exploring with. I am immediately reminded of how right I was.

We only get to chat for 3 hours. A bar, a smoke, lunch, a bimble through town, all the while chewing over what we could do, our states of kit (we have major bits missing), his previous three months in Madagascar and Australia, our various nightmares with customs and the endless list of logistics we have to solve before making the first steps of the expedition.

Then I need to shoot off to spend the weekend with Vik, his family and his RepRaps. As we stuff noodles into our faces we hurriedly make a plan to spend a few more days in Auckland, after I get back, so we can make final adjustments to our kit. Then we'll hitch to a backpackers on the outskirts of city limits. This will be the outpost for us to strike our first footsteps onto the trail and into the wild.

As I wave Ozzie off, I'm excited. We're both work-free, and this expedition's nearly, finally, off the chain. In a few days we'll be carving trails over a country. Destination wherever.

Finding the pillow

Find email. Then telephone numbers. Find place to stay. Find bus. Find hostel. Find money. Find bed. Find food. Find library. Find internet. Find hostel again. Find toothbrush. Find toilet. Find bed. Find pillow.

Sleep for 14 hours.


Finally!! YES!! Such a long time coming! No more wonder, no more preparation, this is it. The dream is now real, and mine for the taking.

I waltz through another lengthy interrogation about my knives, this time from people in different uniforms. Amazingly both tools pass inspection. Inwardly scream for joy as the sniffer dogs ping away from the 'thing I forgot I had', squelch my boots like a child in the biosecurity stage and nearly hug the guard as all three bags weave unquestioned through the final x-rays.

I walk outside. I see my terrestrial tightrope for the first time, not from google earth this time, not from photos or imaginations in my head, but in the flesh. And I immediately have to ignore it. All this airport concrete hides what I'm looking for. Instead I lift my head to a bright, bright blue sky and high white fluffy clouds. What a day.

I can't get in touch with Ozzie, but this doesn't at all bother me. I smile at the sky. Things will come together anyway, Time is reversed. I can see the future as clearly as I remember the past. I realise that this thing is unstoppable.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

I get my knives back

I stand at the Arms and Explosives desk. The police officer brings Bubbles and Lofty in and rests the two pieces of metal on the on the flat wood.

I do not sit.

I am interviewed for a while, standing. My past, my future, my predicament, the design of the tools, their importance, why I need them, my love for both knives, how you make them, now the weather, airline food, flight times...

The police officer hands me a pen. I sign whatever.

He lifts Lofty and Bubbles up from the desk with two hands, and hesitates. Is it the weight? Does he believe me? Is this going to bite him in the arse? Before I can guess he slowly extends them towards me and puts them in my hand. Is this me getting my knives back? We shake hands and I thank him profusely. It bloody well is.

Back at the flat I inspect every last millimeter of the razor sharp edges, holding the bevels to the light again, checking the grips again. They are perfect. I'm all smiles. It's back on.

What was that

I am exactly in the centre of the living room.

Outside, beyond the glass, in the rain forest, are many many many many many many many many many many spiders. The same species as the ones used in the film 'arachnophobia'.

And some have got in.