(Post written by Ingrid Hannan)
Imagine: The wind is blowing so hard you are almost knocked over, the rain has completely soaked every layer of clothing, and you are ever so slightly off course and have to turn around and scramble back up the ridge you just came down. It will be hours before you reach a place to get warm and dry.
Now picture this: There is a warm cup of tea in your hands, the fire is crackling, and the view of mountains and lakes is laid before you. You are in excellent company and the banter is flowing. You can smell food cooking and you are far away from things like traffic, phone calls, and utility bills.
Our excursions in the mountains generally flow between these two types of moments. There are often hours of toil, stress, fatigue, fear. And equally memorable are hours of joy, serenity, inner quiet, laughter, belonging.
Having just emerged from the first few days of the south island traverse with the team, and having experienced with them both of the aforementioned moments, I can tell you: there is no group of humans I know more suited to this lifestyle, this epic journey, this inner and outer challenge.
Lydia, Allan, and Alexis are completely and utterly in their element. It is a beautiful thing to witness. They skitter across rugged terrain with the surefootedness of goats. They pore over maps, absorbing the names of peaks and rivers and tarns. They joyfully face physical challenge with enthusiasm and grit. In moments of uncertainty, there is not a hint of anxiety or irritation to their conversation. And just as importantly, in times of calm and beauty, they are there, totally present and attentive to the moment.
I think it's safe to say that it took a few days for the reality of the enormity of the adventure to really sink in. Up to this point, there was a feeling that it could just be any other weekend excursion. The depth of the undertaking began to emerge in a handful of ways: turning on the satellite communication for the first time and getting a weather report; first baths in mountain lakes and with fire-heated water; receiving the first food drop at Cobb reservoir and exchanging one set of maps for the next.
The first day was a mostly symbolic launch- stepping foot on the northernmost point of the island. The crew was excited and eager for the next day- the real beginning, the start of the march southward. With a short biking section to the Boulder lake trailhead, and about six hours of solid tramping, we made it to the very first hut of the journey. The next day graced us with some sunny weather and a scramble to the top of the poorly named “Needle” just before arriving to the "cozy" (read: tiny dog box) Adelaide tarn hut. Alas, this is where the good weather left us. The next day's clouds and precipitation kept us from the anticipated ridgeline of the dragon's teeth, but we found plenty of adventure in the wet and lush greenery before hopping back up to the much admired Lonely Lake hut. My final day with the gang was our longest and involved lots of cold, wet walking, interrupted by an excellent hot lunch at Fenella hut and a lot of investigating the variety of huts along the Cobb river valley.
Leaving these fearless adventurers was hard to do. They are such excellent company to be amongst. Quick witted, thoughtful, curious, and kind. They are exactly the kind of folks you'd want around a fire, at a dinner table, on a long tramp in the hills, or by your side when the going gets tough in the alpine landscape. I think they will do a great job supporting and encouraging each other through the literal and figurative ups and downs of this venture. Based on the conversations I was observing and taking part in, I can guess with some confidence that their hearts and minds are in the right place to enable all of them to get the most growth and learning possible out of a journey of this kind. Chat ranged from logistics to food to gear talk. And of course much joking, including a use of abbreviations that is veering towards a new language altogether. But one theme came up quite a bit in these first days- and that is an attempt to fully understand how much their community has given to support them and why.
Many of us have contributed to this undertaking in the form of time, energy, money, interest, gear donations, physical training, and emotional support. The range and depth of assistance is nearly immeasurable. And while there are obviously a whole host of reasons to go with each person's contributions, I've been reflecting on what I think is behind the beauty of these gifts. It's about all of us being inspired by their pursuit of big dreams. It's about all of us reaching in to help these members of our community achieve their highest aims in life. It's about being a part of something bigger than our normal day to day existence. It's about many hands coming together in generosity for Allan, Lydia, Alexis, and Mark, who have each, in their own ways, been kind and supportive and generous to us. It's about taking part in the fun and excitement, cheering on our well-loved explorers.
I'm sure many of us would like to be out there with them in some way or another. I hope that their audacity to make this traverse a reality inspires each of us to tackle our own adventures. Or, at the very least, provide us with a good dose of perspective: when those long multi-day stretches of rain torrent the hills, may we think of them out in the elements, and more deeply appreciate the joyful accessibility of things like wine, music, cozy beds and hot showers.
I'm grateful for the bit that I've been able to participate in this. I am sure I am not alone in saying, “Good luck, team! Go safely and happily. We'll miss you this summer but look forward to hearing all the tales of adventure. We are all here, ready to offer support and cheer you on.”