The Hillary Trail: impasse, decision, and reflection

Journey before Destination

Brandon Sanderson – Stormlight Archive Series

Right now, I am reading a book by Brandon Sanderson named Oathbringer. It is a fantastic book in a fantastic series that I adore (future post alert!) In the book, there is the above refrain repeated often in the series,  and it is one that I find myself saying as I write this post. My goal is the destination, but the journey… the training, the discovery, the trials… that is what is important.

Last week, I received a pretty big piece of news in relation to my upcoming Hillary Trail walk.

It was announced that the Te Kawerau ā Maki iwi has placed a Rāhui on the Waitakere Ranges. This… made me need to learn a few things in my new home of New Zealand. An Iwi is the largest social group of Maori in an area. Often translated to a Nation, a confederation, or a tribe, Iwis make up the largest political system in Maoridom. For Americans, think of the Navaho Nation. Iwis work with the government on matters pertaining tot he Maori, but also matters of conservation, the environment, and other areas stipulated in the Treaty of Waitangi.

rāhui is an edict by the iwi that forbids entrance and passage into an area. In this case… the Waitakere Ranges… where the Hillary Trail runs right through.

Why are they doing this you ask? It is because of the Kauri Trees. The Kauri trees are facing a large dieback and possible extinction due to microbes that are killing the root system of the trees. The infection is carried through the soil, and can easily hitch rides on muddy shoes, animals, and water.  Kauri Trees are very old and grow very slowly. They were once logged heavily in the early days of European colonization of the North Island but was stopped starting in the 1920’s. Kauri Dieback started showing up in the mid-2000’s, and despite attempts to slow the spread of the disease, it has exploded in the last few years infecting upwards of 20% of the remaining Kauri Tree population in the Waitakeres… home of the largest remaining stand of Kauri Trees.

A big issue is that people who walk the park are not doing what is necessary to protect the trees. I routinely see people take dogs into the Waitakeres, which is not allowed, and people do not use the cleaning stations, nor the sprays designed to kill the microbes.

The relationship between iwi and the government is a tumultuous one. The Treaty was not honored for a very long time and starting in the 1980’s, there have been attempts to change that. Despite that, the iwis move is not binding in any way. People can come and go through the park regardless of what the iwi does or decide.

Today, however, the Auckland Council is going to vote on what to do about the situation. They are considering 5 options, one of which is the closure of the entire park as per the iwis wishes. The other 4 options will be considered, but it is likely parts of the park will be closed indefinitely. However, while  Waitakere councillor Penny Hulse has stated that a complete park closure is impossible to uphold (the park is 160 square kilometers), people should respect the rāhui.

When I heard the news last week, I was despondent. after missing out on going on the Milford Track earlier in the year, I chose the Hillary because it was something that I could do in my backyard so to speak. It was a challenge I made for myself, and for the last few months, I have strived hard to achieve it. I have pushed myself, I have hyped myself, and I learned to love and enjoy the Waitakere ranges in their beauty of awesomeness. Now, with a month to go before the big walk, I am told that I shouldn’t and that my walking it could further harm the region.

Upset, Angry, shamed that I was angry, crushed at the loss of a goal, all went through my head. On one hand, there is nothing stopping me from walking the Hillary. It is highly doubtful that the Council will close the park, and the iwi has little bearing on laws. I can’t get arrested, they can’t bar the forest from me, or anyone (they even admit this). But… isn’t that what people have done for the last 150 years here in New Zealand? Ignore the Maori and their wishes when it didn’t suit them? English colonials ignored the Treaty, followed then by the NZ Government. The US had done similarly to Native Americans, making treaties and promises only to ignore them when it suited the US prerogative.

No, I can’t do that. Whenever I think about walking the Hillary in defiance of the iwis wishes, I get an empty pit in my stomach and I feel like I am ignoring one of the biggest reasons I am doing the Hillary in the first place: embracing this nation as my new home. And in the end, if I ignore the rules because they don’t suit me, I am not embracing my new home or those around me.

With the vote today, I will look to both the Council and the Iwi on what they want to do. It is likely that a two-pronged approach will happen. I suspect that the high-risk areas: Kauri Cascade, the Montana Heritage Trail, and other areas will be closed off from the public. I also suspect that they will also step up funding to combat the microbe, having found some success in areas, and being able to identify Kauri trees resistant to the microbe. If the iwi is satisfied with the decision and drops the rāhui, then I will go on my walk. If they keep the rāhui in place, then I will cancel my walk… which is a bit devastating. I love the Waitakeres, I want to walk them as much as I can. There is still so much of it I haven’t seen, but I can’t enjoy it if I am also going to help destroy it.

This also makes me worried about the Hunua Ranges, the next closest area of walks for me, which also have Kauri trees, and may be the next to close.

With this development, I tried to look at other great walks to go on during the Christmas/New Year break, and I have found that everything is either too far away, fully booked, or what is available is luxury tramping that is way too expensive. This made me very upset. Again, I have been hiking and training for months for this, and now… so close to the event, the rug gets pulled out from under me.

So… next steps.

If I cannot do the Hillary, I am going to look for a 2-day walk somewhere in the Hunuas or the Coromandel Ranges for me to go walking. I am considering the Pinnacles walk which is either a 1 or 2-day walk or I may do something in the East Hunua Ranges. Both are relatively close to me, so I should be able to find something. I just hope I can find a campground or hut to stay at.

The other thing I have done… is that I have decided to do the Tongariro Northern Circuit at the end of January. This is a great walk that also includes the Tongariro Crossing, something I was planning to do this summer anyhow. This 4-day walk will be just as challenging as the Hillary, so I am glad I was able to find campsites and a hut to stay at. The area is already protected, and it does not have any Kauri trees. So no danger there. It *is* considered sacred, but I will follow the rules of the local iwi there and that is perfectly fine for me.

If the Hillary does pull through, I will be thrilled, but only if the Iwi and the Council agree. Otherwise, I will go further afield.

“If the Journey itself is indeed the most important piece, rather than the destination itself, then I traveled not to avoid duty – but to seek it.”

Brandon Sanderson – Oathbringer Chapter 120

It is a reminder that sometimes the goal is not what you should focus on, and this situation is making me recognise that a bit more. I hope I can do the Hillary, but I am prepared to change the destination, for, in the end, it is not as important as the journey.

The Journey: A Story about Poop

Programming note: I haven’t been on top of posting in the last couple of weeks. I apologise. I will be catching up with that as we go forward. Don’t worry, I ain’t dead yet!

There is something taboo about talking about your bowel movements. Pooping is one of those supremely private acts that, unless you’re a parent with young children, is something you try to do as secretly as possible.

For me, my shyness about my bowel movements meant that I avoided pooping in public restrooms or anywhere other than the 1-2 designated “safe places” for me to poop.

So, to talk about your bowel movements, well… it is like confessing a dark secret, and you never know how people will react. With surprise? Disgust? Morbid curiosity about how others poop? Am I pooping wrong, do I poop in strange ways?

So today, I am going to talk about Poop. If you are squeamish or don’t want to read, feel free to move on. But this will be some rather personal stuff, so be kind, and wipe appropriately.

 

*deep breath, * let’s jump in (metaphorically)

 

So, there is a thing called the “Bristol Stool Scale” which was developed in 1997 to categorise bowel movements. This handy scale, made into a chart (that’s illustrated!) helps you understand what is a good stool, and what is a bad stool. I will be using this to help explain my stools without going into the gory details. It is also interesting that this scale is only 20 years old as if categorising poop wasn’t really thought of until the mid-90’s.

 

Also, it illustrated all the different types of poop. I mean… 7 categories? Really? I never thought of a poop scale being that differentiated, but… apparently, it is.

 

Pre-surgery, my bowel movements were… pun intended… very shitty. My Stool would sit on 6-7 on the Bristol scale for the last few years. This, of course, led to a very miserable experience. Prior to surgery, I couldn’t remember a time when my stool was anywhere near regular for more than a one-off. In many respects, I figured that it was my new normal. I would have a bowel movement once or twice a day, it would be explosive, and then I would move on. This had led to some unhappy bum health as well. Being a gay man, I feel we are more… attuned… to that area of the body, and it never felt right or in “good shape.” However, that is a conversation for another post.

Now, this is likely based a lot on the food I was eating. I ate a lot of take out, I would eat a lot of carbs, I would also eat a lot of processed foods and junk food. Even during my weight loss periods, my stool had been all over the place, with 5-7 on the Bristol scale being my normal and everything else deviating from that.

Then the surgery happened.

To say my Bowel movements changed would be an understatement. I mean, who knew that sewing your stomach together would lead to shitting in a completely different way.

Immediately post surgery, my stool was next to non-existent. Mostly due to my diet, I would go to the bathroom rarely, going 1-2 a week rather than a day. As I moved into Pureed Foods, and later, soft foods. The stool reflected my diet: still, on the 5-6 scale, less 7’s which was always good. When I got into solid foods, for a long while, my stool sat comfortably on the 5 scale, with each week getting more “regular” as it were.

Then, I started exercising, and from there, my food consumption had to go up. With more food, more variation, I figured my bowel would return to its old ways. However, it seemed the change again. With the absence of Fast Food, Junk Food, and high carb counts, my stool then went into mostly Type 4…. And a lot of it… and the frequency changed. I went from 1-2 a day pre Surgery to 2-3 times a week post-surgery, and now, I basically poop whenever I eat too much.

So… that seems to be good… I think?

The other thing is that along with the changes on the Bristol scale, other things have changed when it comes to my stool. i.e. color and smell.

So… color. That is one of those things you also never talk about. Of course, your poop is *supposed* to be brown, but that hadn’t been the reality for me for a long time. The Mayo clinic gives a good rundown of what the different poop colors mean.

 

I like to use this site, (and its big image) because not only do they use the poop emoji, in a semi-serious way but the information is the same. My Pre-Surgery poop color would range from very light Brown to green, to yellow. With Brown/Yellow being more of the norm than the exception.  Again, this was my “normal” and having never really thought about my stool color, I never really talked about it with doctors.

Post surgery though, the Yellow and green has gone away (except once but I think that is fine given the information). I get only brown to dark brown poops now when I go to the bathroom. It looks weird to me now.

And lastly, the smell. Now, this is interesting. When searching for more info about “smelly poops” you find a lot of not so definitive answers of what that means. The closest I came was the US National Library of Medicine, which gives some rather high-level answers to the smelly question. In short, the smell of my poop got worse post-surgery. According to the site, that could be due to two main things: diet change (check), and Malabsorption. Since a theme of Bariatric surgery is a period of malabsorption in the body, this makes sense. But daaaaamn, it is not pleasant. After 10 months living the post-surgery life, I have come to expect a smellier poop.

Because Surgery changes everything, this process has been incredibly interesting to me. You are so used to how your body functions, and then you do something like bariatric surgery, and what you knew was out the window.

In stepping back, it is apparent how unhealthy I was being, and my poop was reflecting that. I was eating shit, and therefore my bowel health was shit. Now that I am eating better, I am shitting better (but overall smellier).

Now… onto the next topic… sex.

 

But let’s not mix the two topics.