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.

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