Posted by: PG | May 26, 2010

Bag Size Matters

Ms. Prickle opts for efficiency (shotgun approach) over precision (scalpel approach) in her questioning style. “So I am assuming you have an extra change of clothes, a rubbish bag, a sleeping bag, and food for three days?” My nod delivers completely neither accuracy nor inaccuracy. It does overlook the change of clothes and sleeping bag.

Ms. Prickle exudes warmth of an underwhelming nature. She indulgently lingers through a not-at-all-hidden, skeptical, top-to-bottom once over. Not unlike the competition-assessing “bitch look” one sometimes sees in NYC elevators. Tacit but tangible disapproval suggests Ms. Prickle has seen it all in her day. If you come across her in a dark alley, run. Dear God, run.

Wool socks/sandal-clad feet in the rain understandably invite some level of overt scorn. Still, some degree beyond that is surely superfluous for effect. (Department of Conservation co-worker crush perhaps, Ms. Prickle?) I extrapolate in determining the suggested equipment is similarly superfluous for effect. If Monty Brewster can shut down any team for three innings, I can handle any cold, wet hike for three days. For those who don’t know the movie reference (from which emerges Richard Prior’s outsize significance in my childhood), picture a garish neon question mark hanging over this whole endeavor. Neon is ingenious only when used in front of the word “Vacancy” and controlled by a switch.

My nod also exercises a judgment call insofar as: 1) a loaf of multigrain bread, 2) three apples, three bananas and three oranges, 3) half a small jar of smooth peanut butter, 4) some roasted red capsicum hummus, 5) a small pouch of goji berry trail mix and 6) several processed edam cheese slices, qualify as three days’ worth of food. I did specifically choose a loaf with 18 pieces, enabling a ration of two per meal. (A lot of pretendaz out there with 14 or 16 slices.) But the yellow plastic bag these groceries arrived in, for an extra NZ dime, is an unequivocal yes to the rubbish bag portion of the question.

I successfully pick up the cabin tickets for which I have come. It turns out, however, that I also was supposed to prebook transportation to and from the Lake Waikaremoana Great Walk trail-ends. Much ado about nothing; I can drive to the trailhead. This happens to be the one area of NZ in which the local Maori tribe has not signed any sort of treaty with the government. Ms. Prickle fortunately has followed me from her office to the transportation motor camp, on hand to exude more touching lukewarmth. She is in person to saccharine-sweetly advise me that I drive and park there at my own risk. She shakes her head, under her breath.

When you housetrain a puppy, you sometimes have to shove his nose in it. But for all my willing unpreparedness called into question, the rest of my equipment serves me well. I enjoy more success on the trail than I do driving my rental Corolla hatchback on the left side of the road.

As an insomniac or a potential Freddy Kruger victim would tell you, however, daytime isn’t the primary issue given my situation. I consider jumping jacks but settle on squat thrusts to generate warmth. Rather, actually, the first night at scenic but frigid Panekire hut, I put on 5 layers of clothing. Additionally, I pull my mattress right up next to the old school wood-burning stove. I think Hansel and Gretel cooked their witch in one of these. Not great sleep, not terrible. Cucumbers might address puffy eyes in the morning but who am I, Louis Vuitton? I’d rather dream about that kind of luxury in tandem with hummus in between two rationed slices of mg.

On day 2, I hike to the Maruiti hut. The circa 1963 gas heater coughingly resigns within two hours of use. The new reality presents a choice: hike a couple more hours on fatigued legs in the dark and increasingly rainy evening or brave an unheated night. I readily choose the former. I picture Ms. Prickle’s poignant would-be admonishments for openly disregarding the booking system. What does her coworker have that I don’t have anyway? Maybe not a change of clothes but probably at least a sleeping bag.

Coincidentally in refuting endearment to Ms. Prickle as a barometer, the breaks fall my way. I am surprised to meet brothers Steve and Matt approaching just as I walk back to the sparsely populated trail. We hike to the next hut together. We enjoy the element of adventure in the nighttime, rainy hike. Steve comes razor blade close to an accident, slipping on a wet rock, but catches himself, no damage done. We arrive. My headlamp, trusty boots and Gore-Tex shell have come in handy. The hut, and more importantly the heating system, are downright futuristic compared to Panekire and Maruiti.

Fun and friendly Steve and Matt generously share chocolate, chamomile tea and chana masala, while we play Texas Hold ‘Em. I would have also liked chopsuey, chapatis, and chewy chocolate Chips Ahoy but that’s just being choosy. We don’t have chips of a poker variety either, so we “bet” with points tallied on a piece of paper. An unpaid emergency points loan costs Matt the chore of sweeping the hut the following morning.

Steve’s music is of a higher standard than the level of poker-play. When the music switches from The Black Keys, a band I love, to a catchy hip-hop song, I mention that this must be what “the kids listen to these days.” 24 year old Steve responds (with pity??) that the song is at least a couple years old. I am equally out of touch when I ask about the “new” Wu-Tang album. I go to sleep in front of the toasty gas heater thinking about how I was completely blindsided by this day’s arrival. The inevitable day in any person’s life when he reaches old age simply by virtue of the music he isn’t aware of. Why hast thou forsaken me Method Man?

The day 3 hike is the shortest and wettest. Matt and Steve delay the gratification of warm dry clothing to drive me to my car. Much respect. Thankfully, nobody effed with my surprisingly sporty Corolla. We say our goodbyes and I soon enjoy the glory of cranked heat, the heretofore elusive change of clothes, and some catchy tunes. I excitedly pull into a buffet for a self-congratulatory dinner 3 hours later. I think about how, actually, I overpacked by bringing three days’ food when I only needed 2 and 2/3 days’ worth.

PS- Ah, All-You-Can-Eat.The first signs of civilization returning. When a non-Earl-of-Sandwich-themed dinner option in town first occured to me earlier on day 3, I thought, well, this opens up possibilities. I realized I had the golden opportunity to double up on fruit rations. Listen, we could debate until the cows come home here, but I think we would ultimately agree it is best to pair orange and banana.

PPS-the remote hike was beautiful and rewarding. New pictures of Singapore, Bali and NZ are in the gallery.

PPPS-I leave NZ after a month here for Tahiti on Thursday afternoon. I arrive on Wednesday evening. Beware just in case the world explodes, but make sure to adjust for your local time zone.

PPPPS- only the “dark alley” portion of my characterization of Ms. Prickle was exaggerated. But all of it was definitely for effect (name changed to protect the innocent). To present the opposing point of view, Steve and one guy at the hostel mentioned I am a bad ass for taking on the trail in the manner I did. I think Steve is just more tactful and willing to use euphemism than Ms. Prickle. The other guy couldn’t figure out why the electric coffee pot wasn’t working until I plugged it in. (I was on top of it because I had just made an eerily similar error with the toaster.) Good dude but not sure what his compliment is worth.


  1. As usual, had me laughing! But I cannot decide what is funnier? Actually calling someone Ms. Prickle? Or a carbon dated reference to Method Man?

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