What do we do? #MeToo and what men need to do

Over the last week, there has been a lot of talk about Harvey Weinstein, and from a larger perspective, sexual harassment and its pervasiveness in our society. I feel like this is a part of the cycle we in the western world live in. The power dynamic in society is always on display, and despite our attempts at change, we have only changed the methods of how we engage in that toxic power dynamic.

I feel that the voices that have come out over the last week in terms of sexual harassment, from celebrities to everyday women using the hashtag #metoo, are vitally important for us to begin talking about what we need to do as men to 1) stop this behaviour in ourselves, and 2) call out this behaviour when we see it.

To begin with, with this post, I will group people rather generally, “Men,” or “Women,” and other terms are meant to talk about the general aspects of these groups, but I also want to point out that we are not slaves to our gender, that we are not defined by our gender or group, and most importantly, not everyone in their gender or group think or act in the same way. So please do not mean to take this post as equating to everyone in a particular group. These are only my perspectives and the things I have noted and seen in my personal life.

My experience with sexual harassment personally started as a younger gay man coming out first in the rural Midwest, and then the American East Coast and onwards. From there, I have experienced the effects of sexual harassment that have been done to women. I have had friends and loved ones sexually harassed, and even then I know that my knowledge of these events are very limited, as I saw to my consternation with the #MeToo protest throughout social media. (And my consternation that I was surprised that so many friends have experienced this)

In the face of widespread experiences of this nature, one must take a step back and ask “What can I do?”  How can I help break this cycle of abuse, outrage, cosmetic change, and repeat? I don’t want my niece, or my nephew, or my friends or family to have to experience this abuse, but at the same time, I am just a single person, in an out of the way country in the world. I am a gay man whose interactions with women are decidedly non-sexual, so what I can do in the face of such an overwhelming problem that has pervaded our culture since we *had* culture.

The first thing to do is the acknowledge that this is a problem. Yes, we have a problem with how we, as the male gender, treat women and at times, each other. This is not a new issue, and on a larger level, it is an issue that we only selectively condemn when it suits the parties involved. The fact that Harvey Weinstein is being destroyed publicly while Donald Trump became President is proof enough that this type of abuse is weaponised or ignored depending on who is the perpetrator.

Second, we need to call out those who exhibit this behaviour. Just as speaking out against pejoratives towards someone’s ethnicity, or calling out other things we find not in the keeping of a good and pleasant society. We, as men, need to be strong allies for women, as well as each other, in confronting this toxic behaviour. This is something that, as a culture, we say is important, but in practice, leaves much to be desired.

So it is the time that we put up, or shut up.

In my small world, I look at how gay men treat each other. In the Bear community, there has been a lot of discussion about sexual harassment, and it generally comes from older men towards younger men (again, not always though). Today, there was an article in USA Today about our behaviour in gay bars. This behaviour is seen as pretty normal, however, it typifies the male experience: if you like it, you react to it. Over the years, the calls from younger men or men who freshly come out, are confronted with how pervasive and acceptable it is to grope someone you like and are often told to quiet down if they push back or are uncomfortable. This mentality is seemingly baked into the gay male experience, and it is one that we need to honestly examine within ourselves and change.

I know that as a gay man, I have been pressured into sex by men. I have been in situations where I have had sex to get out of a bad /dangerous situation. I have had situations where I had to be insistent on saying “No” to other men. I have had online dates turn into awkward moments where I had to decide whether to push back and cause a potential incident or let it go in order to stay “safe.” I have been shamed for pushing back and been called a prude. I have been told that I am too thinned skinned by friends and I have been told that “This is what you should expect” as living life as a gay man.

And in conversations over the past few days, I know that I am not alone in this feeling, not only from Gay men but by far from more women.

I will admit. In a gay bar, I tend to be more affectionate. I reach out, and though I almost always do it with permission or with friends whom I am comfortable with. However, I can recall moments when I have reached out to someone I do not know before I seek permission. I have also been in situations where I have been attracted to someone and be turned down, and I have always respected that, but I can identify where the impulse to react harshly or ignoring the refusal can come from. There is a sort of “code” in the gay world in certain situations where actions and advances can be made and rebuffed without blowback, but that code often is blurry and is used all the time, everywhere, rather than in specific situations.

But also, Sexual Harassment happens in different mediums. By far the worst sexual harassment I have faced has been online, while the physical barriers are removed, but the words, the actions, and sometimes, the stalking… comes into play heavily. I will fully admit that I have had a number of stalkers in my life that I have had to forcefully cut off because they would not relent. Even as a mid-30’s gay man, I often have to deal with overzealous men who will not take No for an answer, online or otherwise. This is by far a more common experience for me and one that has increased over time.  I currently have two “stalkers” who keep popping up in my online life and will not take no for an answer. This is my reality, and sadly, I know this is a reality of far more women and men than it should be, and worse, this is almost he expected action many women come to expect, which is sad and depressing.

So, what do we do?

It starts with me. Firstly, regardless of gender, I will treat every person with respect and respect their personal space and their bodies. They may be attractive, but that does not invite engagement from me, and while I am good with this, I am not perfect, so reminding myself of this is important, because I am *never* entitled to engage someone else sexually who isn’t interested.

Second, I will call out the behaviour when I see it applied to me or when I see it in general. This doesn’t mean I go into full-on warrior mode, but pointing out that that behaviour isn’t acceptable, and not shying away from that is important. Too often silence = complicity, and we shouldn’t be silent when we see it happen, to ourselves, or to others. This is why we see so many women post #metoo in social media because our silence allows this toxicity to fester.

Third, I am going to talk about this with my male friends. Right now, the conversation often boils down to women saying “You do this to us” and men going “but not *us*, other men do this.” This argument is used all the time to stop conversations from happening at a larger scale. Sure, individuals will say they are the exception, or that they do not sexually harass, but in reality, we are seeing that there is a significant group of men who *do* sexually harass, and worse, most of us silently let it happen, and we need to talk about this. This is bigger than individual responsibility, this is on everyone. And more importantly, we need to have this conversation with ourselves. We men need to start being more responsible for each other, and having these tough conversations helps that.

And finally, I will be there for those who need it. From women who have been raped, sexually assaulted, sexually harassed, to the gay men who have been pressured into sex, or uncomfortable, we need to make sure that we don’t silence them because it makes things uncomfortable for us. Fear and silence allow this cycle to continue. Similar to abuse, or intolerance, or bigotry, being silent means that the behaviour will continue, we also need to stand with those who make these claims, especially when they are confirmed in happening. As we have seen in the media, when someone comes forward with allegations, there is an immediate push to discredit the person. Depending on the situation, this often works, and the man walks away from the incident. In so many other areas of law and justice, we take the accusers word and we seek the truth. It seems with sexual harassment, we try and destroy the accuser to see if they can withstand the scrutiny before we pay heed to their words. We need to change the culture of destroying the accuser because they spoke up. This is another reason for the silence within our culture.

In other words, I need to be an ally for women who need my support, and I need to be an advocate for gay men who have experienced this toxicity. I need to be a good example of what is appropriate, and be accountable for my actions, and speak up when I see that behaviour in others.

Look. I know this will not change overnight. I know this will not change in a year. However, it is important that we begin changing and teaching our younger generations what we have failed to learn. We need to push so that when my Niece and Nephew are old enough, they look at our rampant sexual assault culture and marvel at how backwards we were or how boorish we come off as, and how they are lucky we have begun to move from that place. It will not be easy, and this will always be a struggle, but it is one we must always strive to make.

The Hillary Trail: Week 5 – Planning

It is crazy to think that I am now planning my 5th consecutive weekend Tramping in the Waitakere Ranges. I have been really happy with my progress so far, and I am starting to look ahead to the next big phase of my Tramping training.

For Week 5, I am actually going to do a fairly easy walk ahead of Labour Day weekend next weekend. I will do the Fairy Falls/Old Coach Road track once again, and I will be doing it either 2 or loops, depending on my mood on the day. I am doing this for several reasons.

  • I want to walk with some friends, and trying to get them to do a 15km walk is much harder than a 5.5km walk.
  • I can do several loops, meaning I can go further, even if my fellow walkers want to do only one loop.
  • I want to save up some energy ahead of the Labour day weekend.

It seems that planning for this week is pretty easy, so let’s talk about next weekend; Labour Day weekend.

So, last week, I settled on a campground to stay at. I will stay at the Pararaha Valley Campground. The Question is of course, what is the trail there and back going to be?

For this weekend, I see it as my first big test for the Hillary. While I have proven that I can walk 15+kms in a day and that I can do it with a small pack on, I need to test myself with a larger pack, and a multi-day walk. This is where I am most worried. I can walk just fine on my own with a day pack, but can I walk with my tent, my sleeping bad, and everything else? And will I be able to trudge home afterwards?

Well, I am going to find out!

Labour Day weekend, I think I will focus on the Southern Portion of the Waitakere Ranges, a place I have yet to go on my walks.

Currently, this is my tentative plan for the walk:

Saturday

By my estimates, this will make for about 9 hours of walking, which is what I will need to be prepared for on the Hillary. It sits at around 16kms, but I suspect it will be longer because everything I have done has been longer than I thought it would be. This also covers the second day of the Hillary. It is not exact, but many of the trails line up with the Hillary, and again. I see this as a great opportunity to learn the area and to test myself. Also, I am planning some stopping times, so I see this as a true full day walk.

Sunday

Sunday is a much shorter day, with only about 7-8kms for the walk. There are some challenging bits to this walk, however, and I suspect it will be slower going than I initially think.

It is obviously the most extensive walk I have done yet, but I feel that despite the ambition, I am close enough to services if I need help or if there is an issue. I am really excited about the walk, but also a bit nervous. Hopefully, this technophile will be fine living off the grid for two days.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We will do this weekend first with friends, and then on to the big weekend! Hope to see some friends out there!

 

 

 

The Hillary Trail: Week: Week 4 – The WanderingExPat trail

Hello again! Sorry for the late entry. I had a busy weekend.

So, bright and early, I set off once again for the Falls Road parking lot in the Cascade Kauri region of the Waitakere Ranges. For my first “Choose your own adventure” walk, I decided to do a mix of trails I have previously done, with a couple of new trails as well. I figured this would be a good time to start being a little more adventurous, as well as getting some confidence with my decision making.

I started on the Auckland City Walk which is a nice easy start. One of the things with starting a trail you have already done is that you get to look up more often. Right now, I will admit that I have an issue of being too focused on the goals of walking, and not enjoy the walking itself. This time, knowing the trail a bit more, and being a bit more comfortable, I was able to take in the scenery much more than before. Which was quite awesome.

walk3From there, I then decided to head off to the Anderson Track. The Anderson track was new to me, and soon, I found it to be a bit similar to some of the other tracks int he immediate area.

After crossing a small stream, the climb went pretty uphill. There was a lot of mud covered steps along the path, and while I generally despise stairs like these, I manage to get past them quickly without too much grumbling.

From there, I kept up with the walking and soon came to my first decision point. In my planning, I was considering going down a long tunnel. On the map, it said it was open, but I couldn;t find any information on the tunnel, or how good/stable it was. My original goal was to go to the East side of the tunnel, but on the day, I decided to take the trail to the west end of the tunnel, and skip it all together. I am glad I did because as I came upon the tunnel, I found it to be closed.

The Tram line was pretty awesome honestly, and one of my favorite trails so far. Maybe it was the scene of walking down overgrown tracks. Maybe it was the setting, an overcast day, but thick with humidity, but I loved the feel, the smell, and the ambience.

Walk main 2

Soon, I came upon the Waitakere Dam, and from there, met up with the Fence Line Track, which I had done previously. This portion I have done before, but the last time it was raining pretty consistently. This time, however, I was able to enjoy better the area. And it is quite gorgeous. Taking the walk by the lake is really nice, and the trail is nice and clear. This was where I thought I had escaped the mud that has plagued me for the last three weeks.

I was wrong.

The Long Road track is a muddy one. It is really muddy. I am not sure if it is because it is used a lot, or if it is just muddly all the time, but it is just a muddy mess. There were points where I just had to suck it up and get dirty… which… fair enough. Both times I have walked this trail it has been equally muddly, so I am not sure if I should go on it again until there is a significant dry spell (and for Auckland… well… we will see about that.)

Walk Main

Taking the long Road past where I turned off last time, I walked to the edges of the park and to the Whatitiri Track back to my car. At first, I thought this would be a kinda easy track. It sits just on the edge of the forest and it is buttressed against a golf course. Sounds really easy. But surprisingly, the forays into the forest were spectacular.  I ended up crossing a couple of streams and had a great time of it overall. I truly loved the day.

walk2My timing for the walk exceeded my expectations. Firstly, doing a longer stretch this time than week one’s trek was a good decision, and I felt stronger and healthier throughout the process. I *did* eat more the night before, and I felt that the extra food helped me out greatly in the walk. I did not feel tired or run out of energy, and I was really happy about that. The first week, I did 10-11kms (my app didn’t work for me so I cannot give a direct comparison sadly, but this walk, I ended up doing 16kms in just under 4 hours. This was a great result for me. While not as high or as long as last weeks hikes, this one was a much better one for me to scale and conquer, and it gives me more confidence heading into the next couple of weeks.

Also, looking at the elevation differences, I did not have as huge of an elevation change as the previous week, but having almost 475 meters (1550-ish feet) in elevation gain is a good effort for the weekend.

 

Walk1

I did like how the climb was one “big” climb other than several different climbs, but I suspect that I will get better with time in that regard. I will admit though, that descent didn’t feel as sharp as the graph says it does, and there were no steps on the way down… lol.

Overall, this was a great walk, and one that I would put as an early favorite. With the Long Track and the muddiness aside, I really enjoy this walk, and I hope to do it again sometime later in the summer. I may also try and do another similar walk by cutting out as much of the Long Road as possible… we will have to see on that.

Next week, I will go back to familar territory, but also a lot of planning for my big walk for Labour day weekend. Stay tuned.

The Hillary Trail: Week 4 – Planning

So this week, I am tossing up a break in the training. After 3 weeks of building up my endurance and my walking, I was thinking perhaps a week off, especially heading into the period ahead of my weekend away.

Then I started looking at new routes to take.

Right now I am looking at both my weekly walks, as well as my Labour Day weekend overnighter. The more I look, the more I think I should walk this weekend. And this morning, I decided, fuck it, I am walking this weekend.

After looking through routes taken by other people, I have decided to try and make my own route. This will be interesting because I am only a month into the whole tramping thing, and I have been following other people’s routes. So, this will be interesting to try. For my first “Choose your own adventure” route, I will go back to some familiar territory but also set off to some new tracks.

So, here is what I am looking to do (I will need to give it a name at some point):

In week one, I did the Montant Heritage trail, which starts in the same place but creates a smaller loop in the area. This time, I am planning to go a bit wider, and further, and see how I go. The good part of this is once I am on the Long Road Track, I can decide to cut things short by taking the Upper Kauri Track, which I have taken before. This will be important if I feel my energy depleted by that part of the walk.

Going back to the same area will be good. it will remind me to look up more, and see the sites. And, because I am planning to skip the first part of the Fence Line Track (which is a lot of stairs), I think I will find it a little more enjoyable. That being said, I *think* the Anderson Trail is actually quite challenging so we will see.

Also, there are some Tunnels! I think that will be quite fun, though I am trying to figure out what the name of the big tunnel is… I will admit, that the maps are not super clear on this.

In other news. My city walking shoes are giving me problems again. Since getting these shoes a few months ago, it seems that I cannot break them in, getting blisters on my heels almost every time I walk in them. I am at a loss to how to fix the situation outside wearing hiking socks all the time or buying new shoes… which I am loathed to do.

 

I am hoping to decide on my two-day walk here in the next couple of days, I have an area, I just need to finalise the route. Take care and talk to you on Saturday!

 

 

 

An Open letter to the Victims of America’s next Mass Casualty Event

A moment of silence for the victims of America’s next Mass Casualty Event.

. . .

I don’t know where it will happen. Maybe it will happen in a big city, like Atlanta, or Denver. Perhaps, it will be a smaller city like Boise, Idaho or Columbus, Ohio or maybe it will be in a place like Christmas, Indiana or in Camden, Maine.

Perhaps it will happen in your town, who knows. It could happen to you, or your family.

It may happen next week, or next month, or 6 months from now, but knowing the US, we will have another one sooner, rather than later.

The gunman (and it will 99% be a man), while I don’t know his race, or ethnicity, or his religion, will use the laws of America to easily get the tools he needs to carry out his terrible plans. Pundits like Bill O’Reilly will claim that these deaths are “the price of Freedom” and that we as Americans must accept that this is what Freedom looks like. Decrying those who seek to change the laws in our country to make people safer.

Meanwhile, we will hear politicians stoically come to the podium to denounce such evil and tell us that “Now is not the time to politicise this tragedy

So, let’s talk about it now.

Since Columbine in 1999, (and truly we could look back to 1966 to the University of Texas incident where a man took to the University’s tower and sniper attacked people) we have heard the constant refrain of “Today isn’t the day to have a debate on guns” by our elected officials.  The US has steadfastly ignored these incidents, each time deflecting and obfuscating the event with more and more fervour. People will argue passionately about Mental health if the shooter was white (or Asian, as the case in the Virginia Tech Massacre). We will talk about gang and racial violence if the shooter happens to be black. We will argue relentlessness about immigration if the shooter is Hispanic, and of course, the dark spectre of Terrorism if the shooter appears to be middle eastern or Muslim in any way.

We will argue, people will try and shut down debate, and after a few days, the debate will indeed shut down. From there, the families of the victims of the next Mass Casualty Event will mourn, trying to pick up the pieces of their lives, trying to make sense how their country has failed them, as they have failed thousands of other Mass Casualty Victims in the past.

We will see people passionately talking about reform and change, yet fall on deaf ears, because to politicize a tragedy that is more than a week old borders on obsession, the topic is too depressing to talk about after the fact. Think of the families of the people who were lost is hard, sometimes too hard to see day after day. We will see Victims, widows, and family members plead to a Government to change the laws. And that government, run by those who rely on gun lobbyist money to maintain their control in government, will do nothing, saying that “This is not the time to politicize a tragedy.”

We will see the victims of these Mass Casualty events treated poorly by pundits and conspiracy theorists, calling them actors, and call the event False Flag in order to take guns away from people. Meanwhile, debate dies, because people are too tired to listen, too numb to care, and… After 20 years of the same process, will resign themselves to the fact that this is everyday life.

The next election cycle, politicians, funded by the lobbyist who wants to keep the status quo, will tell us that Gun Control is against law enforcement, That Gun Control will lead to more terror and crime, That gun control is against the Constitution, because if they don’t, they lose money, and if they lose money, they lose their seat.

And the cycle continues.

People are dying because politicians want to keep in power, and the only way to do that is to be funded by people who want to maintain the right to Murder.

When we talk about gun control, we are not talking about taking away the right to own a weapon. We are talking about whether a man has a right to murder another person indiscriminately with weapons meant only to kill others in the most efficient way possible. When you hear “This is the Price of Freedom” you should hear, “This is the price of corruption” because there is nothing free about death. There is nothing “free” about dying at a concert, or at school, or in a mall, or at a Nightclub. When people sacrifice their lives for “freedom” it is in defence of their nation, not partaking in everyday life. The only freedom pundits are talking about in this situation is the freedom to murder.

The gun debate is toxic, and it is full of traps meant to stop progress from happening. Around the world, when events like these happen in the past, governments passed laws to restrict the freedom to murder indiscriminately. From Australia to the UK, to New Zealand when situations like our future Massacre occurred, they changed the laws to protect their citizens from a repeat. And those laws have *worked.* and we do not see the same frequency and escalation of murder in those countries.

This is not a debate about owning a gun. This is a debate about how easy we make it for people to kill.

Sure we can talk about Mental Health, sure we can talk about Toxic masculinity and the radicalisation of men in America. We can absolutely talk about these issues in regards to the escalation of these attacks. However, with a complacent and willful political party to allow nothing to be done, they are complicit in our future Mass Casualty Events. They will say touching words, yet do nothing except accept collect their next paycheck to keep the status quo.

When the next Mass Casualty Event happens, and it affects you, or the ones you love. Know that their deaths were not in vain. Their deaths help gun manufacturers make bigger profits, which leads to more donations to lobbyists, who pay the politicians to tell you that “There is something we can do. We can offer comfort to someone near us who is suffering or heavy laden, and we can mourn with those who mourn…

And then proceed to do nothing.

My deepest condolences to the future victims and family of the next Mass Casualty Event. I hope it doesn’t happen to you.

The Hillary Trail: Week Three – The Inland Piha Loop

Yesterday, I made my way to the wild west coast of the Auckland region and decided to do a more challenging hike than the previous weeks. Of course, in doing the Hillary, I will have challenging days, so I decided to pick a trail that is would match one of the more strenuous days of the Hillary. Since most of the tracks in the Waitakeres are relatively short, I use NZtramper.com to find a good challenge. I found, the Inland Piha Loop.

I got to Piha a little earlier than expected. I generally try to start after 8am, but yesterday, I ended up getting to the parking lot about 15 minutes till 8am. So I decided “why not! this is a long trek!”

The weather was forecasted for trouble, with light rain for the morning getting a bit heavier around 12pm. My goal was to try to end by 1pm.

On the good side, the weather, for the most part, stayed away. I only had 2 real periods of rain, and it wasn’t that bad overall. The downside was my belief I could smash the route out in only 4 hours.

 

A Map of my talk, called the Inland Piha Loop Trail

Starting from the parking lot, I made my way west to the first incline. This was the first of two major elevation inclines of the walk. The trail was immediately different from the other trails I had taken so far. Unlike the Montana Heritage Trail and the Fairy Falls/Old Coach trail, this trail was smaller, narrower, and less kept up. This means some fallen trees, so brush across the trail, and later on… lots of mud.

 

I made my way to McKenzie Junction, this is a small clearing where 5 or 6 trails meet up. In my pre-trip planning, I was considering a deviation from NZtramper, but on the day, I decided that with the muddier conditions, a little time on the road wouldn’t be too bad. So I I decided to keep to the original course and walk up to Anawhata Road. The Pole Line track was actually really nice. It was more in line with some of the other walks I have done, and it was a bit drier there. From there, I walked along the road until I hit the Centennial Track. Now, the Centennial track is kinda amazing. It got REALLY narrow, and it hugged some cliffsides to show some amazing views.

Centennial Track 2

Then, the track began to slow down a lot. The decent for the Centennial track is definitely some of the more challenge walks I have done. There were some washout points, as well as a lot of fallen logs, and trees. It was here when I was thankful that I had two walking sticks instead of one. This may become my standard moving forward. The fact that I could anchor myself which traversing mud and steep steps without losing my balance too much.

The biggest challenge of the walk came with the next three tracks; The Home Track, the Marguerite Track, and the Kauri Grove Track. These tracks had obviously not seen much human interaction in the last few days. Spiderwebs crisscrossed the track, and debris, trees, and mud were rampant. My first 2 hours, I did 8 kilometres, after that, I slowed down a lot in this section. This was also when the rain started. slowing down mighty, I trudged through these three tracks methodically, stopping a couple of times after a slip, or an after a huge incline. This was also where I felt my energy shift. Similar to the Montana walk, I just felt my body switch into a new mode of burning.  I slowed to about a 2.5kms an hour pace, but I had my pace. The second incline was really tough, so I am going to have to figure out how I am going to approach those late day inclines so I can keep my motivation, and speed.

 

Mauritga track

The Marguerite Trail 

The trail was muddy but gorgeous, and soon the rain stopped and I was still making my way back to my car. I ended up heading towards Kitekite falls. The way to the falls was pretty cool. I ended up crossing some headwaters in several places, and as I walked along the Kauri Grove Track, I could hear the water coming down and collecting into the stream. The water was so gorgeous. Cold and with a blueish/turquoise tint, the water was so inviting, and I can definitely see another trip to enjoy the water when things are a bit warmer, and dryer overall.

 

Now up to this point in my walk, I had met no person on the trail. With the exception of seeing a biker on Anawhata Road, I hadn’t seen another tramper on the trail. There is both a thrill and a worry with that throughout the day. For the most part, I loved the solitude. Being out in nature on your own is great, and you get to do what you want, and there is time and space to think and contemplate things in your life. Conversely, it is a worry, because knowing how little these tracks were being used, and how narrow and potentially dangerous some of the parts were, I was worried that if I got hurt, and being out of Mobil service range, I could be stuck for a while. The good thing is that with this blog, as well as my manic planning skills, people should know where I am generally to find me if anything were amiss.

But the thought did cross my mind a time or two.

 

KiteKiteFalls

Top of Kitekite Falls

I made it to the top of Kitekite calls at around 1:15pm, about 525 hours into the hike. This is much longer than I anticipated. My overall walking rate came to about 3.5 Kilometers and Hour, and that is pretty good, but I will admit, I felt a little bad with not maintaining a 4km pace. That being said, I did do a much harder tramp than ever before, so I need to keep that in mind.

 

It was here I saw the first people on the tramp of the day. Three people were just finishing a quick swim in the pool area right before the falls. As a side note, it was not warm yesterday. I was wearing my walking coat, tramping pants, thermals underneath, and I was still cold. Maybe it was because I was warm and cold, sweating throughout the tramp, and then go through rain and mud. Luckily up to this point, my feet were still dry.

Being really tired, I took a break and then crossed the falls. Now, I could have gone down the side and walked around the falls, but I was quite tired at this point and took the path of least resistance. I did wash my face briefly in the water, and OMG, it was so gloriously cold and refreshing. This is definitely a place I want to stop again and spend some time there.  From there, I descended the rest of the way to the parking lot. Towards the bottom, I had to ford one more stream, There were rocks crossing the stream, and as I had before during the day, I started hopping from rock to rock.

And there, I slipped on a slick rock and my foot plunged into the refreshingly cold water. However, it was no longer refreshing. My hiking boots are waterproof… to a point, and unfortunately, water just dumped into my shoe. The last 500 meters or so were quite squishy and cold in a not good way.

I got back to the parking lot, to see that it was full, with more people heading off into the tracks. The weather had cleared in the last 15 minutes, and the skies were now clear. But I was done. Checking my phone, the 15.3-kilometre track advertised turned into a 17.9km walk for me. I don’t know where the extra distance came from, and I wonder if there is a GPS program that is more accurate than my phone. I did the whole track at 6 hours, which, looking back is a good first effort for a first medium difficult track. I ended up doing about a half hour longer than NZtramper, but that being said, I may have walked further than they did.

elevation

One last thing, the elevation of this walk was more strenuous than my other walks. I did two main climbs, and the first one was rather easy, but the second one was my struggle.I think it was the up and down, and of course, the depleted energy likely played into it. But it was a good for me.

Overall, I enjoyed this track, but one I will not do again for a while. walking nearly 18kms in the bush is longer than any point on the Hillary Trail, and while I want to train up, I don’t want to overdo it. Next week will be a shorter tramp I suspect, and maybe an easier one as well.

With that, thanks for reading, and see you next week!

 

 

 

 

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!