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!

 

 

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