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

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

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

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

Fairy Falls – Old Coach Track

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

 

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

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

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

Elevation change of the Fairy Falls – Old Coach Loop

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a great weekend, and talk more next week.

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

Auckland City Skyline view from the Fairy Falls Trail

The Hillary Trail: Week 2 – Planning

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

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

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

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

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

I will let you know how it goes!

The Hillary Trail: Week 1 – The Montana Heritage Trail

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

I started at 8:35 am.

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

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

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

Flights and flights of stairs suck.

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

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

*sigh*

I am glad I invested in some waterproof stuff. LOL

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

My boots… were amazing. I have to say.

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

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

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

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

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

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

See you next week!

 

 

New Zealand Election Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Hillary Trail: Week 1

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

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

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

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

*Cue ominous music*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here we go!

 

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

Timeframe: September 2017 – March 2018

Overview

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

1.     Background (On the Trail and this project)

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

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

So… why are you walking the Hillary Trail?

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

2.     The Plan

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

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

3.     Training Trails

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

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

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

4.     The Hillary Trail

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

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

 

5.     Two Main Options for the Hillary Trail

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

Continuous Walk Option

Duration: Jan 2-7

Itinerary

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

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

 

Weekly stage option

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

6.     Conclusion

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

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

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

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

How I fight back

For days now, I have sat and pondered on the happenings of Charlottesville. Watching the news unfold was harrowing. These are images and videos that people in 20 years will look back on in disgust and further generations will look back as a cautionary tale, or a dark harbinger to come. The fallout, and the leadership disaster that is Donald Trump has truly upended the entire country and the world. This is beyond “not normal.”

The whole episode has me deeply conflicted. I know well the history of fascism and its toxic effects. I have read and studied about the Nazis and they above everything else in our culture is known as the “true evil.” 60 million people died fighting that ideology. I also know the pervasiveness of Racism in the US. I know there was a KKK presence in the area I grew up. And on my last trip to West Central Illinois, we ended up in a town (briefly) with more Confederate Flags waving than American.  I know that there are people I went to school with who would march with those in Charlottesville with the White Nationalists.

Its one of the biggest reasons I left the area.

I don’t like confrontation. I don’t like arguments, and I don’t like fighting. I hate causing harm, and I get upset when people are under duress. I also have a deep faith that people are intrinsically good, and I do my best to never harm or be hurtful to others, even if they are not the nicest to me.  I believe that with time, patience, love, tolerance, and respect, you can reach almost anyone, and you can change any mind. I know that sounds like such a fairy tale, even in the face of such hate and ugliness. It sounds naive and childish and irresponsible. It sounds principled and righteous, and it sounds like something Ned Stark would say as he is about to be beheaded by the King.

Events like this is what tests me the most in my beliefs, and how they threaten my resolve in what I find good in the world. I want to talk this out, but people online have their pitchforks out and Doxxing fingers ready, people in real life have tear gas and mace, clubs and guns. I am frustrated and angry, but I don’t see violence as the only answer. I hope this can be won with words, and not violence. I don’t want to give in and leave our generation with more a burden to bear moving forward.

I understand that violence may be the only answer, I just hope it is not too late to try something else.

In the face of Trump, the President, the man that I cannot speak to, or convince, or have any agency to sway… what can I do? I, sitting in a small South Pacific Island, a single voice in a cacophony of angry… what can I do? So far away, so helpless to join protests, unable to do *anything…*

I sit here, and I’ve pondered. I don’t Dox. I do not crusade online. I talk with people, I try and give them my perspective, and hope it has an effect.

And… I vote.

It is time for every person who rejects this toxicity to push back and register to vote. This is more than about Politics. This is something we will have to fight for a *long* time. We need to be pragmatic and clear-eyed and focused. While Violence will not stop, and may escalate and become something worse, we must work on a way to avoid prolonging this national nightmare.

We need more people to vote.

We need to remove the forces that enabled this situation. Words are no longer enough from the Republican Party on this. It is now time to act. We have a White Nationalist Sympathiser as President, and our best chance to remove him, without violence, is to Impeach him now, or else, we will need to fire the people who are protecting him.

Overcoming a Gerrymandered District is easy: You get more people to vote. You register people who haven’t engaged before, and you get them to vote. Gerrymandering relies on people doing the same thing every time. People who vote will vote, and the people who don’t still won’t. Vote, get others to vote, and you will win. It is *hard* because of apathy, after this weekend, I think there are a lot less apathetic people out there.

We need to begin engaging people now and get them registered. It is easy, and I will make it easier for you!

Here is a clearinghouse website to register to vote. In 31 states, you can register to vote online. Otherwise, you can download and fill out the forms needed to qualify. also, make sure your voting Registration is up to date.

For overseas voters we need to do this too. We need to help out.

Two states this autumn will have Governor’s races: Virginia, where all of the events this weekend happened, and New Jersey, where outgoing Governor Christie has a lower approval rating than Donald Trump. If you are in those states, be sure to register to Vote, and Vote.

These, and all the Governors and state Legislature Races the following two years, are critical, for your States will redraw your districts in 2020, and if you want to have a more fair country, you need fairer districts.

Next year is the Congressional and Senate Races. This is what will likely determine if Trump makes it to 2020, barring any insane things he does before then… which… who knows, or the GOP grows a spine… which… I am not getting my hopes up. Again, Register and push others to vote. The more people who vote, the less power people have to enable Trump and White Nationalists.

In the absence of Leadership to remove a toxic threat in our government, we need to mobilise and vote them out so that we can end this ongoing disaster. We are not the laughingstock of the world. We have become that increasingly unhinged psychopath with a chip on his shoulder and a lot of guns, and everyone is eyeing and shifting the exits.

This is how I will fight. I will talk, I will educate, and I will use the best weapon I have… my ballot.

Help me. Help us. Help the Country. This is more than about politics. Register to Vote and Vote.

 

The realities of Immigration

This week, the Trump Administration announced their intention of changing the immigration code in the United States (link to a GOP senator’s site). The bill, called the RAISE Act, is meant to change the immigration code by:

  • Reducing the amount of Legal immigration by half by 2027
  • Eliminate the Diversity Green Card program, giving 50,000 spots to people from low application countries.
  • Limit Refugee intake to 50,000 a year, and make that law.
  • Introduce a points system for skilled migration based on merit.

The reaction to this has been flying across the internet, with the big talking point about the ability to gain a visa if you are an Olympic Athlete or given extra points for fluency in English. There is a lot of anger, but also a lot of misinformation being bandied about, and I feel that as someone who has now worked through two separate immigration systems multiple times, needs to comment on this.

Firstly, I can only speak about my experiences and my perception. What is true for me may not be true for others, and frankly, being a White American means that a lot of my trials are nothing compared to others. With that said, let’s dive in.

Firstly, I feel that just because other countries use a point system (Australia, Canada, New Zealand), it doesn’t mean it is the best, nor most fair system for immigration. Also, it is important to note that not all visas in these countries require a point system. In Australia and New Zealand, the points system is used only when there are no other “reasons” for the person to be moving to the country. This means that if you are in a relationship, or sponsored by a company already, or anything like that, you are fine, and not covered.

Australia and New Zealand also have “Investment Visa” meaning that if you invest money into the country, you get a visa. There has been an issue in NZ with Peter Thiel being given NZ Citizenship after spending only 12 days in the country, (and paying a lot of money). Unfortunately, money does talk, regardless of the country you live in.

Also, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia have very liberal “working holiday” visas, which allow people, usually under 30, to be able to live and travel in the country long term (from 1-2 years in most cases). This is how I originally moved to Australia, and it was a Visa that took about  3 Hours to approve.  These visas work well because it allows people to come see the country, work there (often in casual or seasonal jobs) and then leave (or find another visa to stay). The United States does not have any such visa.

The Diversity Lottery is a truly unique American ideal, and one I feel should stay. The United States is thought of as “the land of opportunity” and the Diversity lottery is one of those things that makes our country look appealing to those in the rest of the world. I have a couple of friends who have moved to the US on a Diversity Lottery, and I feel that the those opportunities represent the best of the US, and we shouldn’t kill that program for political points of the moment. We lose that, and we lose a bit of what makes the US awesome.

The limitation of Refugees is stupid. The world changes and situation may arise when we should (like right now) be allowing more people in. We used to bring in 100’s of thousands of Refugees a year in the US, and it did not make us a worse off country, and the continued vilification of refugees is par for the course for an Administration who equates foreign with bad.

The English requirement feels a lot like a racist hurdle put in place to slow down non-English immigration. It is a big issue I have with the Australian and New Zealand Immigration programs as well. If you do not speak English, your fees to get a Visa double, at the very least. While I understand the fees for translating official documents like Birth Certificates or Marriage licenses, in Australia, there is a straight up fee if you cannot speak English fluently, even if you are not trying for a work visa. The United States should not have an English requirement for their Visas, and to impose one would continue the isolation of the US from the rest of the world.

I think that the skilled Migrant Visa is a good idea… to a point. In Australia and New Zealand, we face skills shortages across the country. In New Zealand, it is actually construction jobs that are in sharp need atm. I feel that having a point system can be beneficial in some areas of immigration, but it cannot be used to cut migration by half, or worse, keep people out that you politically do not like. The United State’s strength is in its ability to accept everyone, and making it work. We want smart, intelligent people, but we also want those who need opportunity, who escape violence and death, or people who are following love. We need to reach out so that young people come to the US and see the amazing diversity, and that it is more than what we see in the news headlines. We want people to come to the US to study, to create value, to broaden our horizons. We need immigrants because without them, we would start losing population ourselves… for a start.

The Trump/GOP immigration plan continues the century long Conservatives hysteria that outsiders are bad and that nativism is good. I feel that, like many situations in the United States currently, there needs to be a change, but destroying the system, and putting a half-assed plan in its place is not the answer. It won’t work with healthcare, it will not work with tax reform, and it is not going to work with immigration.

I wish that political parties would stop using immigrants as their scapegoats and attend to the actual issues rather than blaming those who cannot fight back politically (since we can’t vote for the most part).

To cut immigration by half in the US is to cut off its own nose to spite its face. Isolating ourselves from the world by making it harder to come to the US will only push more countries away and lose our standing in the world. By copying the worst parts of other Immigration policies around the world, the US is showing that is no longer leads, only copies poorly what other nations have done and are considering to change.

My immigration experience has generally been good. Being a white American, who speaks English fluently, and have a degree… I actually wouldn’t qualify for a skilled migrant visa in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the US, the UK, or elsewhere. The only way I have been able to stay here is through my relationship, or through direct sponsorship, which I was offered at one point, but passed on. I knew the moment I saw the headline “would you be let in with Trump’s new immigration rules?” it would be a no.

To further close off our shores betrays the foundations of our nation, and what we represent. And while I know we cannot stay the same forever, closing our borders makes us a smaller, meaner, and less deserving country. You cannot be the leader of the Free World while slamming the door in everyone’s face.

 

People are fat because…

The Journey is not just physical, its mental, emotional, and psychological. Over the months, I have talked about my sense of self: my changing body, the clothes, the face and I have talked about the emotional side of those topics.

One of the ongoing conversations I have with people is about “Why people are fat” and it is often a hard topic to discuss. For many, if not most people, weight gain, and being overweight or obese is considered a failing. A Failing of control, of discipline, a failing of taking care of themselves. We see this mentality all over media and in our lives. This idea is encapsulated in the quote by Congressman Mo Brook (R-AL) about not funding pre-existing conditions like obesity or diabetes n the US Healthcare system;

“it [creating high risk pools] offsets all these costs, thereby reducing the cost to those people who lead good lives. They’re healthy. They’ve done the things to keep their bodies healthy. And right now those are the people who have done things the right way that are seeing their costs skyrocketing.”

I have come up on this argument a lot, and in many different ways. The idea that being overweight is solely a persons choice, or the result of bad decisions is a tough one. In my daily life, I get variations of this argument all the time, and I find that I often have to defend bigger people, even those who *are* being unhealthy and making poor decisions.

On one hand, being overweight and obese makes you a greater risk for Cancer. There are other issues associated with being Obese all of which can be a detriment to your health. Being overweight is not a death sentence, but it begins the stack the odds against you in terms of long term health and happiness. Also, coming from a community that embraces the “body beautiful” theme, no matter what size, there is that push and pull about loving bigger men, but also recognising that it may be detrimental later in life. I have previously talked about the fear and trouble about losing weight in the Bear Community, and I think I hold onto my defense of “big is beautiful” strongly because of that.

I also know that we are not in an Obesity Epidemic world wide because people make bad decisions or are lazy, or whatever. Worldwide Obesity levels are rising with 1/7th of the world considered overweight or Obese. So this is not just an American issue, or just an issue in the West. This is a health issue that affects the world. This is less about poor choices, and more about how we educate people, how we frame the food and exercise debate, and how we change our relationship with food from a consumer level. There needs to be systemic change in how we make mass produced food and drinks so that the factors that can lead to obesity is minimised and taken away.

The problem is that you can’t have that conversation every time someone says “They are fat because they made poor choices” It is esoteric, and it is such a large issue that people just glaze over it, which doesn’t help. It also goes into the old arguments of the responsibility of businesses in the realm of societal movements and personal buying (and eating) choices and that never ending fight.

I try to explain that for many people, they didn’t have a choice in their size. From  their biology to their upbringing, to age, to their socio-economic status and more, the factors that set in motion their current weight may have started well before they (or anyone) knew the effects of their actions. And when people *want* to change, then there are factors working against them, even from their own bodies.

This is why surgery, at least for me, was *the* tool I needed to help me win this battle. It took surgery for my body to align with what I mentally wanted; to be thinner. The surgery was only a tool that helped change how my body reacted and processed food, and because of that along with my mental attitude and determination to lose weight, I have been able to lose double what is considered the normal weight loss for my surgery type. I would not have been able to lose 58 kilos and maintain my sanity or stay healthy if it were not for the surgery.

And it affects me as well.

In the past, I have seen several “ex fat” people become very judgmental on other bigger people. I remember, back in Sydney, someone I knew lost a top of weight, became a personal trainer, and then berate all of his former bigger friends for not losing weight. As I lose weight, I am super conscious about not falling into that trope. While my journey has been transformational for me, there are others who are not ready, or don’t want to. There are people I know who strive to become bigger, I have friends who love the size they are. My new found weight loss may not be the goal for someone else right now, and I think it is important that my journey, and other people’s journey will be different. We will have different trials and tribulations. It is also important to keep an open and empathetic mind towards everyone; not every big person needs an intervention, and not every skinny person is the paragon of health.

Every time I hear “People are fat because of *insert reason here*” I hope that I will always try and defend and be even handed in my response. Life, and bodies are much more complicated than “lazy” or “choices” or whatever criticism people want to place on them.

The 4th of July

A few years ago, my mother said I was a traitor to my country.

It came up in an argument about being critical of the United States. I was living in Australia at the time, and my mother said that criticizing the US while not living there made me a traitor to my country. The conversation did not continue much beyond that.

But it is something that has come up from time to time when I am critical of the US or its policies. Some form of “Well, you don’t live here now so you don’t get a say” usually comes up, and I find that for many people, it is easy to dismiss me because I am no longer living in the US.

This always makes the 4th of July a weird holiday for me.

I have another American working in the office. He is what you would think of a patriotic American: He is wearing American Flag branded stuff today. He is flying a 8 foot by 6 foot American flag from his house today, and he is wishing everyone a very happy 4th. He is also a Trump supporter… which I have done very well to avoid any conversation on that topic (or much about America honestly.)

My…”Patriotism” is a mixed bag of sorts. Much like my family, I have a very complicated relationship with the United States. There are aspects of America that I absolutely love: I love how amazing the people can be. I love the diversity of the nation, from landscape to culture, to people, I find that every corner of the US has something of value, and something worth showing the world. When I take my Husband to the United States, I love to show him parts of America you do not see in the media, or on TV. I show him the hidden gems of the Midwest, or the surprise awesomeness of the South, or even the awe inspiring landscape of the West. From cities to the country, I am most proud of the United States when it does something that helps everyone, and when it does something amazing. I love the quiet moments when the amazing value of Americans come out, and people are constantly surprised by our curiosity, our interest, and our perspective.

But, the United States is a bit of an Asshole as well. When I see the Country’s stance on Immigration, or Refugees, or its views towards others in the world, or when the country seems content on being divided, it is hard to watch. And this is not just at the National level either. I am watching states shut down because they are no longer interested in working together. My home state of Illinois has been operating without a budget for 3 years now, and it is likely not going to change until the next election… next year. We are having basic arguments over how much we should care for our sick, and what is our responsibilities as a nation… and for many, that is “none” and it is frustrating and disheartening. We have a broken political class who seems hell bent on passing legislation that is so unpopular, you have to ask why they are doing it outside lining their pockets for the next election. It feels like the Politicians in power have no party platform, only “stay in power” and with each action, it seems to cement that feeling.

It is not like the United States is alone with these issues: the UK and Australia are also grappling with these sea changes in our nation’s conscience. I could write a very similar post about both countries, and there wouldn’t be much difference.

So, coming back to the 4th. Is it uncouth to redress the Government on the 4th of July?

Last month, there were several protests at US Gay Pride Parades. These protests were not from the Right, but rather, from the Left. Many in the LGBTQI community push harshly back, decrying the protests during a time of celebration. The irony of course was that the first Pride marches were very much protest movements. It seems almost fitting to do the same with the 4th, as it represents the United State’s biggest, and lasting example of Government criticism and redress. As the 4th is now a day of celebration, I think it is appropriate for us to also stayed cleared eyed about the United States. It is not a happy place right now. I have friends who are afraid of their rights. I have friends who are worried if they have a job this year because of politics. I have friends who are worried they will lose healthcare. I have friends who are scared they will lose insurance because they can’t currently afford it. I have friends who have just had babies and their world has gotten more scary because of all of this stuff around us. I have friends who fear that when a cop pulls them over, they will become a victim. I have friends who openly worry about whether they can stay in a city because they are being priced out.

As I watch, from the outside, but with a ring side seat at many who are struggling, it pains me to watch it continue, being unable to help outside of a kind word, or a sympathetic digital shoulder.

I want to help, but I can’t until the US admits it has a problem. Many in the US will point that finger at Trump, or the Republicans… but I feel that this has been happening for a while, and that our politicians have gotten away from us. I think we have allowed ourselves to be divided by something as arbitrary as political opinion. We have cultivated a society that values loyalty over common sense, Jingoism over openness, and has devalued the value of admitting when you are wrong.

Our leaders have become as blind and uncaring to the needs of the people as King George III was blind and uncaring to the needs of the Colonists.

I love the United States. It is my home, it will always be my home, and when it is needed, or warranted, I will defend it with as much fervor as anything. But right now, it needs some help, and I don’t feel like celebrating when I can see it in such self-inflicted pain, and it is unwilling to change itself for the better.