The Journey: A Confluence of events

One of the things I love in life is a confluence of events. I love that we can make it so an object, shot into space years before can hit precisely its target billions of miles away with everything in motion. I love when you arrange for people from all across the world to meet at one spot at one time. I love things like the Amazing Race, where people find different routes, but still end up together at the end for a photo finish. It is one of those geek things of mine. I love when things magically meet up, it means that a plan has come off perfectly.

Today, The Journey has hit a confluence of events, and I am excited and emotional about it on so many levels.

Today, I hit a goal I thought I would never hit. Today… I hit 99.1 kilos. Double Digits. I am officially under 100 kilos. In US terms, that comes out to 218.4 pounds. This weight I haven’t seen since I was 17 years old. This also means that I have now lost 69.5 kilos or 153 pounds. (Ideally, this post would have happened at 100kgs, when the weight loss would be 150 pounds, but I dropped more than I expected today). I have done this in 230 days, meaning that I have lost an average of .3 kilos, or .66 pounds a day in the 7.5 months since surgery.

The 100kg/220lbs mark has been a huge emotional goal for me. I remember at 17 stepping on the scale and seeing that number with shame. Two years previously, I weighed only 120 pounds, I was in three sports (Cross Country, Track, and Swimming) and through a tough life at home, dropping out of those sports, and taking on two jobs, I found myself 100 pounds heavier. Kids were teasing me at school, my parents were derisive towards me on my weight (and other things), and it led to more emotional eating and the resulting scale number. I felt terrible, and I have never been below that number since. Those two years I learned the habits that led me to my crisis point earlier this year and my decision to begin the Journey.

The last time I was at this weight was over half my lifetime ago.

Fuuuuck.

Even while losing weight, I never thought this day would come. It is emotional, unexpected, and humbling. No Journey is successful alone, and I would be remiss to not say thank you to everyone who has supported me. While this is not the end of the Journey, I know that now is the time to start thinking about the scale less, and more about the things I want to do in my life. The Hillary awaits, and so does many other adventures that I hope to share with you all for a long time to come. I will lose weight, but for the first time in 19 years, I don’t have the standard “I should lose weight” in the back of my mind as default.

I will need to dig in that later, but for today… I will enjoy the moment.

Below, I will include a pic at my heaviest, and then today, enjoy.

Biggest Aaron

Me 28 January 2017 – 2 weeks before Surgery 168 kgs/270lbs

 

Aaron Progress September 30 17

Me 20 September 2017 – 230 Days after Surgery 99.1kgs/218.4 pounds

 

The Star Trek we want, and the Star Trek we need

Note: There will be spoiler talk over the First Three Episodes of The Orville, and the First two epsidoes of Star Trek Discovery. Read at your own risk.

If there is one TV Franchise that I love more than any other, it would be Star Trek. From a young age, Star Trek enthralled me. I remember watching the Next Generation as a child and marvelled at a galaxy filled with Klingons and Romulans, and an Android who wanted to laugh. I remember watching the old Series with furry tribbles, bad graphics, and evil Spock in a goatee. I devoured what I could of Voyager and Deep Space 9, even getting my Husband into Trek during the early years of our relationship. Star Trek is one of those shows whose universe, worldview, and idealism appeal to me on a fundamental level.

This year, there are two new sci-fi shows that have come out: Star Trek Discovery, and The Orville. Both of these shows exemplify the best of Trek, but also the future of trek, even though one of them is decidedly not Trek.

The first of the two shows I watched was the Orville. The show has been created by Seth McFarlane, of Family Guy fame, and it backed by Brannon Bragga, a former Star Trek alumni who have worked for most of the last Generation of Trek shows (Voyager, DS9, TNG). While net set in the Star Trek Universe, the parallels there are obvious, right down to the 5 act formula of the episodes. The show is a bit crasser in that the characters are more flawed than your typical Trek crew. They drink, they take drugs, they make mistakes and feel sheepish about it. They make jokes and rib each other. It is a friendlier, less sterile group of people which makes for better TV. The archetypes of comedy are there, and each character so far fills their niche well.

What is interesting however with the Orville is how it is approaching their episodes. Any Trek fan would instantly recognise the progressive streak in the Orville.  From the casual dropping of Cannabis Edibles to the deeply divisive discussion about Gender and social conforming, like holy shit. Star Tek was often at its best when it would take current issues, and frame them by using an extreme alien example and deconstructing the human argument. The episode “About a Girl” is exactly one of those episodes. While taking on several subjects at once: Gender, Body modification of babies, and respect for another culture’s beliefs, the episode juggles these issues as well a typical trek episode would (which is good and bad).  Being Episode three, I know there were some cringe moments, what early season 1 trek isn’t cringey on some level. Remember the TNG episode where the Enterprise met a world ruled by women? yikes.

Being Episode three, I know there were some cringe moments,  but I felt that the tone, the drive, and the ending was pure trek. The trek that people loved and gravitate to, but also doesn’t take itself completely seriously. The episode and the show aren’t perfect, but it brings back that mirror to talk about some of these issues in a way that people may not think about. “About a Girl” to me felt more about the helplessness one feels when a whole society believes something different than you, and how standing up doesn’t mean action immediately. As we saw with Worf in The Next Generation, that change takes time, and I suspect that if the Orville has a decent run, we will come back to this issue in a bit more acute detail. The seeds were sown in this episode and using Bortus as the Worf character that will have his journey of awakening and understanding (via Rudolph).

Star Trek Discovery, however, is not the same Trek from your youth.

Star Trek Discovery is trying to do what Enterprise wanted to do halfway through its series run. Enterprise is likely my least watched or liked Trek. It started off very much in the frame of the previous Treks, but sluggish ratings and a changing world lead to the Xindi storyline which played on post 9/11 realities. I felt that Enterprise failed in that shift.  Discovery does this with a 20-teens mentality – The outbreak of War, the fear of religious fanaticism, and the danger of extremists becoming leaders and martyrs.

Star Trek is known for its idealism and solid belief that good and progressive values will always win. Those values are challenged, but not often tested however in most Trek series. The Crew and the Federation almost always have a firm grasp of what is right, what is best, and those two things almost always align. Deep Space 9 veered the most from this formula (Benjamin Sisko was quite good in showing the grey side of the Federation), but the most popular trek has always been the most idealistic trek. The first two episodes of Discovery places Trek in our current world – What happens when being benevolent, avoiding conflict, and peace fails. What happens when your idealism is used against you, and treated as a weapon, and not as a goal? How do you remain idealistic? How do you remain hopeful? How do you stick to your values when you have to grab a gun and kill.

You saw this on display when Commander Michael Burnham tries and pressures Captain Georgiou into not seeking peace like the Federation would, but rather attack a threat she knows is coming. The scene is confronting for any trek fan because of the obvious conflict between the two, and how it goes ultimately unresolved. It highlights the internal struggle for Trek. How do we stay true to our values when we are most tested by a changing world?

Further, it seems that Commander Burnham has long-standing issues with another officer, which is a pretty huge departure as well for a Trek series. Even Bones and Spock had respect for each other, the same may not be said for Commander Burnham and Lt. Commander Saru. In the previews for the season, it looks like Burnham will have a lot of conflict with the crew, in ways that the Maquis/Federation split of Voyager should have always had more of.

As someone who avoids conflict and violence as much as possible, the two episodes spoke to me. I love the quick and clever plans that avoid harm, but there are times when that is impossible, and how do I reconcile the need for violence when it goes against my moral code? The Federation in this situation was set up to walk into this war. The other side used the Federations rhetoric to unite others against them, and the Federation was not prepared to change. Moving forward, I suspect we will see this tension between the Federation’s values, and the Federations reality, and I really look forward to seeing how this Trek manages it. And I am glad to see a show tackle those ethical moments that are not so blatant as the Orville. It is deeper, more personal, more nuanced.

When I saw the first Episode of the Orville, I said that it looked like “Funny Trek” and that Discovery would be “Dramatic Trek.” I think right now we need both, and both serve a good purpose. I hope they continue to develop and grow into themselves.

 

The Hillary Trail: Week 3 – Planning

So it seems that I am starting to get my groove when it is coming to my training. Over the weekend, I ended up doing over 20kms, half in the Bush, and half in town and my energy levels were definitely on track. So I am pretty happy with my progress there.

Looking ahead, I want to be able to step up my game a bit, but also start relaxing into the tramping experience. Instead of seeing this as training and exercise, I want to make sure I am not focusing on the wrong things.

But then again, I do love the pushing my boundaries and pushing my body as hard as I can. So, I need to have a balance between the two. I also want to make sure I don’t burn myself out between now and January. I love the tramping, but I don’t want it to become a chore. So I will be careful about overdoing it.

In the feet department, my blisters have been healing nicely. On both my Saturday and Sunday walks, I wore two layers of socks, and it seemed to do the trick in protecting my feet. I think those, along with the Blister pads, will keep my feet safe for now. This has really driven home how important I need to keep my feet in good shape.

I am starting to plan for my Labour Day weekend trip. I am tossing up a couple of options. Either I will try and camp out near the West Coast, getting a feel for the area, or I will head down to the Hunua Ranges and have a walk and a camp down there. I am still divided on how to approach it, mostly because I am trying to avoid the Hillary trails so that I don’t get used to them (and I want to experience them for the first time when I do the full trail). I think both areas would be good, so it really just comes down to my final decision.

Another thing about the Labour Day weekend trip… I will likely do it alone. For me, I feel very comfortable with going alone in the woods. Even at night. Growing up in the American Midwest, and being a lover of the dark sky, I have always felt home int he dark. Couple that with the fact that New Zealand doesn’t really have *any* predators in forests, makes things very safe and easy. Of course, going alone freaks some people out, so I will need to make sure that even if I travel alone, I will be safe. But, I will say there is a perverse pleasure about just disappearing in the woods for two days and just being on my own.

The Labour Day trip will also test my food intake. One thing I am starting to increasingly worry about it what food I will take. Since I will likely not have too much in the way of cooking ability. I mean I could make a fire, but really… not sure if that is the best thing to do, and my default is to take a lot of nuts and maybe some MREs that you can make with just some water. This is the area I am most concerned about, with regards to having enough food… since I don’t know how much food I should take given my body’s needs. I think some research is in order.

But before I get to the trip (which is like 4 weeks away), I am now looking ahead to this weekend, and where I should go and do. This weekend will be a “push weekend” I suspect, and what I plan to do is at least a Medium difficulty walk.

This week, I plan on doing the Inland Piha Tramping Loop (with a couple of changes). This Tramp combines the following trails:

I am not doing the Pole Line Track to Anawhata Road because I would rather not spend time walking along the side of the road. Instead, I will take a slightly different course. I suspect that I will lose some distance, but I figured that the challenge would be in the walking. Also, there is a lookout, which I suspect will be nice to see.

This could be a full day walk, but I will see how I go, and see how quickly I can pull it off. The following week, I will look at doing an easier track.

Despite the rain forecasted, it doesn’t look to be consistent… but I think the mud will make it a better challenge.

Election Night: New Zealand

Good afternoon! Right now, Kiwis around the Country are heading to the polls to elect a new Government. It was just announced that 1.24 million people voted prior to today, in a bid by the government to push for higher participation in elections. This represents around 25% of the total resident population of New Zealand.

There has been a worry about falling participation rates in the last few elections, and so there was a big push for early voting this year. It will be seen what the final numbers are, but there is an indication that the 18-29 demographic have maintained their typical anaemic participation rates. Numbers are still in flux so I will wait for the post-mortem before having that discussion.

The weather across the country is fine and fair, which should help drive up participation as well.

The polls close at 7pm local time, and from there, the counting will begin. Ballots in New Zealand are paper, and they are counted twice by a group of people. I worked the election in 2014, and it was a great time learning the civics of my new Country. This year, I will be live responding on social media the results (and I will post here as well, either tonight or tomorrow morning).

This will be interesting. Because I am very into politics in the US, I know a lot about the history, the way government is built, and how it operates. I know the swing states and the swing districts of those states. I know the general trends, and what is going on internally from state to state. With New Zealand, it is a completely blank slate. So this election will be me learning all the areas and places to focus on as results come in, and get a good handle of how the results impact the coalition building that comes afterwards.

So with that, I do know some areas I will be focusing on, reading the returns/tea-leaves and guess what will shake out and who will be Prime Minister tomorrow.

Electorates to watch tonight

So, every place will have electorates that “represent” the country as a whole. These electorates, called “Bellweathers” are districts that may predict the winner as the votes come in. If there is a wave happening in the election, these electorates are the first to show it. Wikipedia has a good rundown on the concept, but here are (generally) the accepted Bellweather Electorates in New Zealand:

What is interesting about these electorates is that they represent entirely the North Island, and all three electorates are within two hours of each other, and worse, it basically encapsulates a single city, Hamilton.

So, I looked a little further and found this blog post using some statistical data from 2014 to extrapolate the most likely bellwethers in this election. It reflected a political blogger who had a post about the new Bellweathers. They are:

Northcote slipped to 11th in the updated ranking. We will see how the numbers shake out, but I will be focusing on these districts in terms of how the General election is flowing.

Remember the MMP system

Of course, with MMP, we need to track not only how the electorates go, but also the overall party vote. A party must reach 5% of the overall party vote to gain representation in Parliament. The Greens, New Zealand First, and TOP will be trying to hit that 5% mark. ACT, Mana, and Maori party will concentrate in electorates to get into parliament. These parties will make up the possible coalition partners for the two main parties, Labour and National.

Latest polls have seen a late swing towards National but with most media outlets not wanting to give the edge to either party.

So stay tuned, I will do live updates on my social media, and I will write afterthoughts when the results become clear.

Take care, and you have 2 hours to vote if you have not. Get out there!

 

 

Hillary Trail: Week 2 – Fairy Falls/Old Coach Road Loop

Today, I climbed back into my car and headed out to the Waitakere Regional Park, which is quickly becoming my weekend spot. Today, I decided to walk the Fairy Falls/ Old Coach Trail Loop track. The weather this week turned out to be less rainy as forecasted, and today turned out to be a gorgeous morning for a walk. My buddy Mike decided to come and join me for the walk, and we headed 30 minutes out of Auckland and found our trail.

The Fairy Falls/Old Coach Road combo is quite nice. The first part was excellent. The trail was well-marked and gravelled. We came to the top of the falls, and then zig-zagged our way down through a series of stairs. Crossing in front of the falls once in the middle, and then at the bottom. Then, we walked down the stream a bit before climbing out of the valley.

A Map of the Fairy Fall and Old Coach Track loop. Length is 5.9kms

Fairy Falls – Old Coach Track

The end of the Fairy Falls Trail turned the corner to Old Coach, and the trail was more in line with the other trails I walked last week. They were good, but at times muddy. The ascent was challenging, and soon, we were back at the beginning, marking 3kms an hour for the walk. The overall walk was just shy of 6kms.

 

I felt really good about the walk and decided to do a second loop of the track. Mike headed on home, so I threw in some headphones and headed off.  The second time had the benefit of knowing where I was going, and I was thinking more in terms of my fitness and how I traversed the landscape. I did really well, cutting a half hour off my walk and getting to the 4km an hour mark.

Luckily, I had both my Fitbit working and my MapMyWalk app and using today and indication, I will need to revise what I walked last week. I suspect that I walked 10kms instead of 12 last weekend, because of today, my App was working and much more accurate. I will likely end up doing the Montana Trail again and make sure my App is working so I can get a better indication of the walk length. But today, I definitely cleared 12kms. The good thing too is that I was not completely wasted after the walk… which is super important.

A Graph that shows the change in elevation during the walk. Total elevation gain of 247.5 Meters

Elevation change of the Fairy Falls – Old Coach Loop

The other part I was happy about was the elevation. Generally, I am not a fan of huge elevation changes, but with my walking, I have become more fit, making these much easier and I am starting to see them as Challenges rather than torture sections. You can kinda see where the huge set of stairs were at the falls towards the bottom, and then the general ascent through the rest of the trail. I actually found this better as I got to avoid going up stairs like last week.

This walk was pretty awesome honestly. It was fun, relaxing, and gorgeous. It is also versatile, allowing me to bring friends for a loop and I can either do a second loop or move on to other trails nearby. I suspect that this is going to be a walk I bring people to when they want to do a walk with me. I did take a single walking pole with me, which came in handy during the Old Coach section.

I can’t say how much I like this trail.

Another good thing about this walk was that I saw what it was like to not push myself during the walk. With Mike, we kept a good pace and made great time overall. I know that for me personally, I tend to push myself pretty hard, and with tramping, that is no exception. The husband reminds me that this is a “Relaxation Sport” and he rightly points out my tendency to focus on results more than the process. One of my worries is that I am going to powerwalk the Hillary and not enjoy it as much as I should. Today was seeing me slow down a little, see more of the trail, taking some photos and have great conversation. I was happy with my progress… even if I did get to push myself a bit a little later. LOL. I will need to make sure I find lots of side trips for the Hillary to explore and see.

Track of the Day: Get Lucky – Daft Punk
On my second loop, I was walking through the trail and the familiar guitar/piano drum riff stars in. A broad smile broke out on my face as I looked up at the canopy. The light was streaming through, the smell of the forest, of the mud, and the hint of moisture was in the air. I took a moment, looking at the world of ferns, lichen, and moss on the trees.

I admit… I danced for a moment, lipsyncing to Pharrell.

I will leave you with one last photo. After the falls, we started our walk up, and towards the end of the Fairy Falls Trail, there was an opening in the forest, and we got to see a great view of the Auckland metro area. The photo does not do it justice. It is a reminder of why I wanted to do this… to see the awesomeness of New Zealand.

Have a great weekend, and talk more next week.

A view of the Auckland Metro Area, with a view of the Harbour with Rangitoto behind.

Auckland City Skyline view from the Fairy Falls Trail

The Hillary Trail: Week 2 – Planning

So, with week one under my belt, I am taking stock of the after effects. The walk took a lot out of me, and on Saturday, I actually ended up eating two full meals, which is a first since the surgery. My body reacted pretty strongly to that as well. I dropped in weight, but then bounced around. I feel alright, however, and today my weight has settled to about a kilo and a half less than last week, which is kinda nice.

The weather on Saturday was “meh” in that I did have periods of rain, and that led to quite a bit of mud. That makes me a little hesitant to try this weekend, but on the other hand, I will likely deal with rain while on the Hillary, so it is best to accept that. And it is spring in New Zealand

The weather this week is… not good… Wednesday to Friday it looks like it is going to rain… a lot. It should clear up Friday afternoon, and it will just be cloudy on Saturday. So the plan is hope for dry weather, plan for wet and muddy again.

But, that being said, I think I have found a pretty easy tramp that is also pretty. The Fairy Falls Track, which will connect to the Old Coach Road Track to form a loop. It is about a 2-hour walk and it is 5.8 km. It is in the same area as my last walk so I will get to learn a bit more about the area. I am truly digging the Waitakere area.

Oh! one last thing! It looks like I will be doing an Overnight camping trip in October over Labour Day Weekend! I will be plotting my course, but I will be taking suggestions on where. I prefer the Waitakeres as I want to get used them, but I am really wanting to find a pretty place to go. Something on the coast, or high with a view.

I will let you know how it goes!

The Hillary Trail: Week 1 – The Montana Heritage Trail

Yesterday morning, I hopped into my car with my brand new hiking boots, my bag with water and my camera, and a walking stick and headed off to the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park. The weather was pretty good, but there was rain in the area.  It took about a half hour to get there, and once there, I got packed and ready.

I started at 8:35 am.

The Montana Heritage Trail is a loop track that encompasses four trails:

When entering and leaving the area, you need to clean your shoes to prevent Kauri dieback, this is rather important I come to find, and even now at home, I need to scrub my hiking boots to keep them clean, especially after this weekend.

The Auckland City Walk sounds exactly what you expect. It is a pretty cool and easy walk along a stream. I saw the turnoff for the Upper Kauri Track, which would take me in a counterclockwise direction on the track. I decided I wanted to end on the Kauri Track, so I went onwards to the Fence Line Track. Now this track… is pretty much uphill. It was steep enough that it became a series of stairs. It was pretty tough honestly! Like, I am in the middle of the woods, and then, there are like 400 steps in between various switchbacks. Give me a steady incline, and I am awesome. Flights and flights of stairs suck.

Flights and flights of stairs suck.

The weather up to this point is good. Warm enough to take off my jacket and put it in the bag, it was nice!

I made it to the top of the mountain and started to descend. Making my way down a little to the Waitakere Reservoir. Just as I get to the Reservoir, it begins to rain. I stopped and pulled out my coat, and put it on, and just as I was getting on my way again, it starts pouring. Luckily, these walks have been pretty covered by massive trees, so I am not getting too wet, but suddenly, I am faced with an exposed levy to cross.

*sigh*

I am glad I invested in some waterproof stuff. LOL

The ground at this point is fairly muddly, with puddles in footprints… very Jurassic Park. My boots are quite muddy at this point, and I know that I need to scrub them later on. I hit the Long Road Track, and this is where things get really challenging. The Long Road is pretty much an old dirt road, and it feels pretty much only used for walking, and maybe occasional vehicles trying to get near the reservoir.  It was so muddy, and not wanting to go off track (again, warnings of Kauri dieback in my head), I trudged through. There was about a 500-meter span where it was just… very muddy. It was fun but exhausting. I am so glad I had my walking stick. It suddenly came in handy.

My boots… were amazing. I have to say.

The Rain stopped after about 10 minutes and then was off and on for the rest of the walk. It was nice, and it kinda hit home the reality that yes… I will often be walking in the rain, so… let’s get used to it now.

Finally, I made it to the bottom of the Upper Kauri Track. And began to pass through the Kauri Stand. It was quite beautiful, and it is amazing to think that some of these oldest trees could predate human civilization in New Zealand. They were protected initially because these trees were cut down after European settlement for their lumber to export around the world. By the 1920’s conservation efforts were underway to protect the last remaining large areas of the trees, since the Kauri trees grow and regenerate so slowly. Now, they are being protected by disease.

Whenever I walk in New Zealand, away from people, I feel like I step back in time. Seeing so many Ferns everywhere just naturally growing feels exotic and different. It is like walking into a movie. And while I know that is cliched, it is just great to stop and look at the wonder of the ranges.

The Long Road and the  Upper Kauri Track slowly ascend to a point, and then the last part of the Upper Kauri Track is a lot of steps downward. Again, my walking stick came in handy. Even with the stairs, it was nice to have a little extra stability. Eventually, I returned to the starting point, and I checked my Fitbit, and remarked that instead of 8kms, I went 12 kms. I did feel the distance though. I ended at around 11:15, so I went around 2 hours and 45 mintues.

Overall I really enjoyed the walk. It was a little more of a challenge that I expected, but nothing I couldn’t handle. I also pushed myself pretty hard so I know I can slow a bit too. I was very exhausted afterward, and during the walk, I swore I could feel my body switching modes from burning food I ate last night, with my fat. I am going to have to look at eating a little more the night before these big walks. That is going to be a challenge I suspect.

The Weather for this week looks grim, with rain for each day to at least Wednesday. This makes me nervous about another Waitakere walk for Saturday. However, I have found a couple of great Tramping blogs for the area, so I hope to find a pretty good track for next weekend.

See you next week!

 

 

New Zealand Election Thoughts

Sadly, I cannot vote in next week’s New Zealand National Election. In the last election (2014), I worked on the day, helping people vote. It was an awesome time, and I enjoyed seeing how the New Zealand Election system works.

This year, I am not working the election, but I have been more involved in learning about the issues that affect the country. I feel I have a stake in this election and so, while I can’t vote, I wanted to talk about how I would vote if I had the chance.

For those who are not familiar with the New Zealand Election process, the country uses a Mixed Member Proportionate system. What does that mean? Well, what it means is that Parliament seats are decided by a mix of Districts and Party Representation. Let’s break it down.

* – Sometimes due to rounding, there can be an extra, or overhang, seat. This is to maintain the proper proportional representation of the parties.

This means that when you go into the Voting booth, you get two votes. One for your Electorate, and one for the Party you prefer. If the party gets 5% of the party vote, they get at least one seat in Parliament, regardless of whether they win a seat in an electorate.

The Maori population in the country have a choice of voting in a Maori Designated District, or in the other Electorate they fall into. This is a fairly controversial arrangement in some circles, especially with the idea of vote value… But that is another discussion for another time.

This election system means that your voting options are much bigger, wider, and more strategic. You can vote for a candidate you like in your district but vote for another party because you want to have their views in parliament. Personally, I find it an excellent system, and right now New Zealand is in an interesting position.

 

Right now, there are two major parties in New Zealand: National (Center Right) and Labour (Center Left And each, on average, garner between 35-43% support. It goes up and down, but generally, they sit in the low 40’s.

From there, there are two minor parties, which consider of the Greens (Left) and New Zealand First (Which is Liberal *and* conservative? They are confusing. More on that in a moment). These parties usually have between 5-9% support. The Greens have been polling into the Teens in the last couple of years, but an (IMO bullshit) scandal knocked them down to 7% during the election run.

Then there are the Micro Parties. These parties are the Mana Party, the Maori Party (Both Left), United Future (Center) and ACT (Right) who have 1-2 seats and usually they are electorate based.

There are some parties who are trying to knock on the door to get into parliament.  This election, TOP, or the Opportunities Party, is trying to crash into Parliament by trying to get that magic party 5% vote.

Right now, National has been in power for nine years. They have been in a Coalition with ACT, Maori, and United Future. They are trying for an unprecedented 4th term in government. At the beginning of the election, it seemed like National would be able to secure the 4th term. Then the Labour Leader, Andrew Little, resigned as leader two weeks into the election campaign and Jacinda Arden became the party leader and has amassed a remarkable comeback.

The latest polls put Labour ahead of National 44%-40%, so neither major party will be able to govern alone.

Because of this., everyone is looking at the Junior Partner in the potential alliance. Both Parties could potentially make a government with either New Zealand First (who is polling at 6%) or the Greens (who is polling at 7%) with the Micro parties able to carry over the line in a razor close need for numbers.

The big issues of this election for me personally have been the following (in order):

  • Immigration
  • Medical and Mental health services and the Suicide crisis in NZ
  • Child Poverty
  • Housing Affordability
  • Infrastructure development

On most of these issues, both Labour and Green both appeals to me, even New Zealand First and I have quite a few things in common. There is one area I am very nervous about, and that is immigration. The Labour Party has a spotty history on how it approaches immigration issues. Two years ago, Labour Leader Little called out “Chinese sounding names” as an indicator that property speculation is running rampant in the country. It led to a fairly large blowback because of the insinuation about race and property ownership. Since then, I have been very cautious and unsure about Labour’s Immigration policies, and I am not convinced they won’t cave to other parties when pushed.

I feel that parts of NZ First’s Immigration policy is harmful to the country and would be terrible to enact. It would impact me immediately, locking me out of Permanent Residency for much longer, and potentially mess with my ability to own a home. Party leader Winston Peters has been quoted (on their Immigration page!) “New Zealand First’s view is simple – we welcome the people we need and not those who need us.”

I feel that statement locks empathy and compassion, heartless and has no business governing.

The Greens Immigration policy wants to raise the Refugee Quota and also prepare for Climate Refugees from the Pacific Islands. They also want to streamline the immigration process and monitor the influx of immigrants.

In reality, all three parties have things in their policies that I like, and things I do not like.

With Labour in the driver’s seat regarding numbers against National at the moment (though it has been tightening) they will likely be able to choose which party to align with: Greens or New Zealand First to form a government.

So, for me, the choice comes down to… Which side of Labour do I want in Government? Do I want a more conservative Labour with NZF where NZF can (and will) pressure for more draconian immigration measures, or do I go with a More Liberal Labour with the Greens, where the Greens may blunt Labour’s impulse to go too far on immigration?

Of course, I can look at other issues between the three parties. Labour and Greens hit a lot of good things for me, especially with Infrastructure and Programs to help Children and Mental Health. I like how NZF wants a priority on education and see it as an investment in the future of the country, a better welfare system, and putting money into our medical and mental health areas.

In reality, many of these parties agree on a lot; it is the details that they differ… That and Immigration.

So, for me… I would do a Labour/Green split ticket. My Electorate (Auckland Central) vote would go to Labour, and my Party vote would go to the Greens.

Honestly, I expect that there will be tightening in immigration. The world has largely removed the welcome mat from their doors and closed their doors. I fight against it hard, but right now people are nervous and scared, and that translates into pushing out immigrants. However, with a Labour-Green Coalition, the worst of Labour’s impulses will be stopped by the Greens, and the pragmatism of Labour will make immigration more efficient and prevent exploitation by the system. For other issues facing NZ, I feel that the Labour-Greens coalition can do a lot of good and help those Kiwis who are struggling. I have family in the public medical field, I have friends who are immigrants, who face mental health issues, who face medical waits and access issues. I want PreP funded in New Zealand by the government,  and everyone is hurting under the housing issues and infrastructure needs. The solutions that Labour has put forward and the areas that the Greens prioritise is, I feel, the better path for New Zealand for now.

And finally, I think having a Liberal Government take over government would send a message to the world, that the scary Conservative political shift of the English Speaking world is beginning to falter.

If I could vote at least, that is what I would do.

Hopefully, barring NZF getting its way, I will get to vote next time. Here is to the election, and if you are a Kiwi, please vote. No matter your political lifestyle choice, voting is a vital part of democracy, when fewer people vote, more extreme candidates and governments are elected. As a result, so please vote. Even if it is for the Cannabis Party, or TOP, or National, or Green, or NZF, please vote

The Hillary Trail: Week 1

Welcome to week one of “The Hillary Trail” series of my blog, where I will talk about my training for Tramping the Hillary Trail in January. Each week, I plan on doing a walk around Auckland and Talk about my adventures. I will be taking my Camera and snapping photos from time to time and sharing them with you all. I will also use my blog to update you on my Journey Progress, as well as my upcoming training plans.

For the inaugural post, I wanted to talk about starting the Hillary plan, as well as let you know where I am going this weekend (and anyone who wants to come).

This week has been a good one for planning. After making the definitive decision on Sunday to do the HT (btw, I am calling it the HT) I began researching into how I want to do the track. In the end, I think I have decided on doing something quite Ambitious: I am going to camp for most of the trip.

Now, I have had limited experience in camping. Most of my camping was in cabins, and when I was in a tent, it had cots and was huge. So the idea of camping in the woods, likely alone, is an interesting one. Now camping is something I have always wanted to do, so why not try? What is the worse that can happen?

*Cue ominous music*

Anyhow, after doing some research, I settled on a 2 person tent that you can set up quite easily. It’s super light and insanely small. I am going to practice with it on the balcony before taking it out, however… just to be safe. I am also planning on doing a one night trip somewhere in the spring to get a feel for it, and make sure I can hack it… that will be a story I am sure… lol.

Anyhow, luckily one of the big hiking stores in New Zealand was having a sale (of course they are, They always have sales) and I snagged the tent at a pretty decent price. This was also on the heels of buying hiking boots on Saturday, so already I feel like I am going deep into this project.

So, with the Tent, and the Hiking Boots, I feel I have a good start for my equipment needs in January. This weekend though, all I will need are the boots. I have been wearing them throughout the week to break them in, and on Saturday, I am going to walk the Montana Heritage Trail. It is an 8km trek, and 260-meter change in elevation that meanders through the Cascade Kauri Regional Park. This walk is in the same area as the HT, but the paths do not cross. What is cool about this walk is that I will walk through the largest stand of Mature Kauri Trees left in the Auckland Area. Kauri Trees are native trees to New Zealand, where they can grow huge and some trees date back to before human settlement of New Zealand. but they have been suffering a devastating die back in recent years and only a small percentage of the oldest trees are left. A microscopic pathogen infects and kills the trees. It is generally passed by humans… tramping…  (so you see where this is going). There is a huge effort to protect and save the Kauri Trees.  Luckily, you can help prevent spreading the disease by using disinfectant provided around the park to make sure you don’t accidentally carry deadly spores around.

(This is also why you get those questions about hiking in forests or working with cows on Customs forms entering New Zealand)

Also, I found it interesting that the trail was named “Montana.” (Apparently, Montana is a Spanish word for Mountainous country). Anyhow, the Montana in this situation is actually named after a vineyard that was started nearby by a Yugoslavian immigrant. The company has since grown and moved away from the area, but they have helped invest in boardwalks and protections on the trail so that people can see the Kauri Trees without damaging them.

The walk is scheduled to take 3-4 hours, but not knowing how challenging the walk is, I will reserve judgment. The good thing is that people refer to it as an “easy” tramping trail, so I am confident I will be fine.  I will confirm a time tomorrow with friends and see if anyone will come along.

I am cautiously excited about this. Ask me on Saturday night, however, and I may give a different story.

Here we go!

 

The Hillary Trail – For once, it is not about the emails

Timeframe: September 2017 – March 2018

Overview

I am planning to do some Tramping this season, both in the Auckland Area, and possible over in the Coromandel, and other places. I wanted to open this up to my friends and such to drop in and drop out whenever you want to do a trek. My overall goal is to walk the Hillary Trail twice this season. There are several options to complete this, and I will lay the options out below. However, I want to get into tramping, and also camping this season, so I want to do some walks this season and give friends a chance to come and join.

1.     Background (On the Trail and this project)

The Hillary trail was developed by the Auckland Regional Council between 2005 and 2009 to create and commemorate Sir Edmund Hillary’s time training in the area ahead of his expeditions in mountaineers and climbing Mount Everest. The self-guided 77km Track tramps through the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park west of Auckland.

The Trail starts at the Arataki Visitor Centre and will end at Muriwai Beach. However, there are points to get on and off the track along the way.

So… why are you walking the Hillary Trail?

I have always enjoyed hiking on some level. Mountains, hiking, the hills have always interested me, and there are periods of my life where I have taken to walking alone in parks and go hiking. One of the luckiest things in my life in that I get to live in New Zealand, a land that is awe-inspiring and diverse. For the past three years, I have worked through a lot in my life. From adjusting to life in New Zealand to the death of my close friend, and then the Bariatric Surgery, I have had a rough emotional journey. With the surgery and the resulting weight loss, a lot of the hurdles that kept me from doing the things I love have been removed. And so, after initially looking at the Milford Track, and missing out on securing accommodation, I have decided to walk the Hillary Trail to challenge myself and to finally do what I have long wanted: see and photograph the beauty of New Zealand. Being able to walk in the ranges, see the amazing stars at night away from Auckland, and taking in a whole different world than the American Midwest where I grew up.
To work up to the Hillary Trail, I will be training up in the area in the regional parks, to get to know the land better and to have some excellent walks. We will also look at walking some parts of the Hillary Trail as well.

2.     The Plan

Starting the weekend of September 16th, weather permitting, I will be looking to do a Saturday morning walk in the Auckland area. These walks will start off with between 5-10kms, and will gradually build up to 10-20kms. The walks will start between 8:00-9:30 am depending on who wants to go and where to walk (for Example, Rangitoto may be even early to catch the discounted ferry over.)  I will say that I am an early riser, so I like to start at the beginning of the day with the goal of trying to finish around midday.

Regardless of your interest in the Hillary Trail, you are more than welcome to join on a Saturday walk. If the weather is bad on Saturday, but right on Sunday, may shift days as well. There will be either a group or information on my blog about what we are doing.

3.     Training Trails

In the lead up to the Hillary Trail. Here are the tracks and trails I am looking to walk on over the course of the season.These will grow and change as we walk them. And find ones we like, ones we don’t like and new suggestions.

Name of Trail Length Average Time to walk Website Map Notes
Cossey Massey Loop Walk (Hunua Falls) 8.3kms 3 hours Auckland Council Cossey Massey Site Map of the Hunua Falls Region Park The partial closing is not bad; you walk along a road.
Montana Heritage Trail 8.0kms 4 hours Auckland Council Montana Heritage Trail Site Map of Cascade Kauri Park One of the largest remaining stand of mature kauri trees in the Auckland region
Fairy Falls-Old Coach Road Circuit 5.6 2.5 Fair Falls Trail and Old Coach Road Track Map of Cascade Kauri Park
Zion Hill – Buck Taylor – Pãraraha Valley Track Circuit 8km 4 Hours Pohutukawa Glade Walk, Zion Hill, Buck Taylor, Pãraraha Valley Track Map of Karekare Park Contains a portion of the Hillary Trail, and can walk a lot of loop trails from here.
Rangitoto Wharf, McKenzie Bay, Summit Road/Track walk. 10kms 5 hours McKenzie Bay/Summit walk details Map of Rangitoto Island A Good day Trip.

This list is just a starting list of locations and will always be researching and adding more. Also, since I am planning on camping on a portion of the Trail, I may look at doing an overnight at a campground to test out how I fare (which makes me excited), I am thinking a weekend in October or November on a portion of the Hillary Trail or nearby.

4.     The Hillary Trail

The Hillary Trail is a 77km walk that is broken up into 7 Sections.

Section name Length Time Website Travel/Accommodation Notes
Section 1: Arataki Visitor Centre to Karamatura Valley 12.3 km 4.5-6 hours Section 1 Can be picked up in Huia, or can stay and camp there (or Private accommodation)
Section 2 Karamatura Valley to Whatipu 10km 5-6 Hours Section 2  Campsite here is likely the bet, there is a lodge, but need a group to stay, and there is a minimum charge. This will be a tough day with some steep climbs. There is a short 20-minute Detour to see the summit of Mt. Donald Mclean
Section 3: Whatipu to Karekare 10.2 km 3-4 hours Section 3 Likely Pararaha Campground (or Tunnel Campground). Have contacted Karekare Beach Lodge about renting out for one night. Awaiting word back. Another challenging day, with some substantial climbs. Ocean views
Section 4: Karekare to Piha 11 km 4-5 hours Section 4 Good day, but can spend the afternoon at Piha with friends. Maybe this can be the Air BnB night? Some town walking here it seems, but also some real bush walking.
Section 5: Piha to Anawhata Farm 4.7 km 1.5-2 Hours Section 5 No stopping.
Section 6: Anawhata Farm to Te Henga 12.5 km 5-6 Hours Section 6 May need private accom here. Checking with Ara Station and Bush Sand and Sea B and B Big Descent and then ascent from a valley.
Section 7: Te Henga to Muriwai Beach 15 km 5-6 Hours Section 7 Go home. Famous Gannet Colony. And getting to the official Hillary Trail finish.

 

5.     Two Main Options for the Hillary Trail

I have decided that I want to try and conquer the Hillary Trail in two ways: a full, continuous walk over six days, and doing 1 stage every weekend for six weeks.

Continuous Walk Option

Duration: Jan 2-7

Itinerary

Day 1: Section 1 –  with a camp stay.
Day 2: Section 2 – with a camp stay
Day 3: Section 3 – with a camp stay
Day 4: Section 4 – (Friday) Afternoon at Piha Beach – Possible Group Airbnb with friends for a night at the beach.
Day 5: Section 5 and 6 – Accommodation at Ara Station, or Bush Sand and Sea BnB.
Day 6: section 7 and Finish

Notes: With this, it is a pretty big first three days of camping in the wilderness. On Day four, I/we start early and make it to Piha, where (weather permitting of course) friends and Seb are there to enjoy the afternoon on the beach. That evening, we can have an Air BnB nearby and enjoy the night away from the city. It would fall on Friday so even if people are back at work, they can come out after work. I think this is a pretty awesome idea. If not on that Friday, we may be able to book out Ara Station on Saturday, which means we can have seven people staying (with a two-night stay). This option may be good for people who want only to walk 1-2 days towards the end of the track.

 

Weekly stage option

I am also contemplating a less strenuous plan to the Hillary Trail. For each successive weekend in Jan and Feb, we tackle a leg of the track, with someone picking us up at the end of each day and bringing us back to our cars. People can drop in and out as they want, and it is super casual. It would be like the training Saturdays but on the actual Hillary trail.

6.     Conclusion

Overall, I would like to walk the Hillary Trail twice over the season. Doing it all at once would be a challenge I would like to work towards, and Ia m comfortable with doing that either alone or with 1-2 people if they are interested. Now, that said, the Hillary Trail is not desolate, and there will be many people on the trail, so I will not be isolated if I decide to walk on my own. I will likely fall into groups of people who are also travelling. I will also follow safety rules as well.

The weekly option is good too, and I know I will get more people who will join for some (or all) of the trail. So… I kinda want to do both if there is interest? We will see.

I am going to use my blog as well as Facebook to set up a group of people interested. If you are interested, just message me, and I will create a group/group chat. In the end, I want to push myself and accomplish this goal. I feel motivated and excited about this tramp. If I can do this, then the Milford will be easy, and who knows, maybe this will be something I enjoy doing. I know it is a big thing, and of course, I have put my planning mark on it, but don’t let that scare you. Even if you want to just go for a walk once or twice, just shout, and I will let you know where I am going next and when.

I’m really excited that I have finally found what I wanted to do. Wish me luck!