As Luck Would Have It
Trip Start Sep 09, 2004
394Trip End Ongoing
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Last night's gathering was round at Mase and Leah's place for a few drinks, a barbecue and some silly games. I turned up a bit later after enjoying a nice meal and a catch up with the Chike and 'mam'. By the time I got to the party everyone was sat round preparing for a game of 'Cranium' and I got paired off with Lyn-Marie who was already full of red wine and running riot at the mouth. Cranium's like a bit of a combo between Pictionary, Charades, humming, acting and Ludo. It's not a bad game at all if you can get people to maintain a trace of sensibility. It didn't take long however, for it to happen. It was inevitable really. Lyn-Marie. After a couple more glasses of wine the shrieks and giggles started and the matchstick men drawings started to involve all sorts of shocking obscenities, prompting Leah to suddenly ('I think it's time to call it a day everyone') pack the game away.
So today was a bit of a wind down day. Lyn-Marie and Leah took to going for a walk while us boys indulged in a few 'ends'. It was great. I can't believe I'm admitting to this, but today's lazy afternoon at the Queenstown Bowling Club has been one of the most enjoyable afternoons I've had in a while. I'm not talking about bowls, I'm talking about bowls.. 'Lawn' bowls. You know...'feeling the weight', 'reading the bias', 'finger or thumb'? all that. The game you would usually associate with a bunch of white-heads standing around on a perfectly groomed lawn. Well the piss taking can stop already, it was a fantastic afternoon. I must be starting to get really settled in to my thirties or something. I was so completely chilled out. But it wasn't just me, the others were well into it too. Jez took it so seriously. I stood back for a moment and pictured us all doing what we were doing. I couldn't believe what I was seeing! What's happening to me?
Anyway, I met 'Raul' the other day - Ade's replacement. Ade had recommended him just before he left Queenstown and having since finished his on-the-job training he seems to have settled in quite nicely. He seems a good bloke too and a bit of an outdoorsy type. He was telling me about his latest encounter with nature. Remember a few entries ago when I mentioned taking a kayak over to 'Hidden Island'? Just for the hell of it, just cos' it kept winking at me? Well, being a keen kayaker and all, Raul decided to do it last week. And he's lucky to be alive. I was appalled at what he told me. Apparently he made it over there with his housemate in the late afternoon and within minutes of stepping ashore the weather took a swift change for the worst, as it so often does. The wind picked up and started howling in ferociously from the West. Being an experienced kayaker and strong swimmer, Raul insisted that his less experienced mate take the lead and make a mad paddle for it. This he did and in no time at all he'd been pounded out of his kayak by the towering waves. While his friend gasped in panic and struggled to make it back aboard, Raul set of from the shore strong and focused, his chest taking a constant beating as the waves pounded and punished. Seconds later, he too had been ripped out of his kayak and having made a swift dash to retrieve his far flung paddle, he turned in horror to see another cruel blast of wind take his kayak further away, well out of reach. He knew he had no hope of making it back to his kayak and on spinning around to see the furious paddling of his panic stricken friend inching away in the distance, he knew there and then that his only hope was to swim for it. His friend had left him. He never looked back.
The water in Lake Wakatipu is seriously cold, and considering that one of its main sources is the Dart Glacier, it's freezing cold. They say you've got around six to eight minutes. As he was fully immersed and wearing only a pair of swim-shorts, Raul started to shiver in just a couple of minutes. Knowing full well the seriousness of the situation he did all he could do under the circumstances. With all the strength, technique and energy he could muster he kept his head down and swam strongly, and with everything he'd got for almost an hour. By then he was totally burnt out and as he stopped momentarily to catch his breath his whole body started to lock up and freeze solid. He said that the shore didn't look any closer than it did an hour before. By now it was well after dark and he was completely alone in the lake. No-one had the feintest idea. In sheer terror and panic he flailed his arms desperately with very little technique towards the nearest lights, absolutely petrified. Over the next forty minutes or so he constantly fought the negatives in his head and came terribly close to giving up. When he finally realised that his fate was imminent and he could take no more, he felt his knees drag heavily on some pebbles. He'd made it ashore. He said he could feel no feeling in his limbs and couldn't think straight or at least think to function. What he did do somehow, was to keep going robotically, as if on auto-pilot. Twenty minutes later he'd managed to drag himself up the bank and over somebody's garden, slumping heavily in to the owner's door. All he can remember is the door falling open and a voice crying out 'Oh my god, call an ambulance!'
Around this time, I was stood peacefully on my balcony, staring out over the lake with my thoughts. Hidden Island was there and so was the vast stretch of hostile water. Who'd have known? Ten more minutes and he could have been dead.
Speaking of adventures, the next adventure is sitting just around the corner and in a few days I'll be in paradise. I've jigged a few nights around at work and on Friday we'll be driving down to Te Anau - me and the Chike that is. We'll be staying at Brett and Sylv's that night and hopefully enjoying a bit of a 'how the hell are yers?' with them (and Brad if the old dog's around). Saturday morning will see us take a boat from Te Anau Downs to the northern tip of Lake Te Anau - the start of one of the world's most famous and scenically amazing tracks of all time - the 'Milford Track'. Lucky just isn't the word. The track's been fully booked since I checked last November. It usually is, so I don't know what possessed me to look mindlessly at the DOC website a couple of weeks ago. Yet to my utter disbelief I saw that two spaces had suddenly become available due to an unusual cancellation, clearly a rare and desperate situation. I also knew full well that it would be snatched up within minutes so in an instant knee-jerk fashion the credit card got yanked out and immediately secured the two places. Full hut passes for the Milford Track - Ch-ching! I'd accepted the fact long ago that I would be leaving New Zealand without experiencing 'the Milford', so this cheeky stroke of luck will make for the perfect cherry on the New Zealand cake. Sweet as!
As I've been sorely out of shape lately (with no foot problems though I might add!) I've been actively trying to get the old heart rate up a bit. Queenstown Hill has been the punishment of choice and as the start of the track is pretty much outside the patio doors of my bedroom, it's been the perfect little training partner to engage in before work. It's a steady climb to over 1000 metres and though very achievable it can be quite strenuous. I've been trying to spring up at a steady enough pace to consistently reach the summit in just over forty minutes. I've been up there eleven times so far and have started feeling a lot better. The Milford Track is by no means a strenuous one so it's not really all that crucial to be in the best shape of your life or anything, just sensible not to attempt it looking like a blubbery wheezing walrus.
It'll be so good to get back out there again. It's not just the stunning location but the whole tramping thing. It's the privileged feeling you get from being so isolated and the basic means of survival you're subjected to. My last jaunt was Stewart Island's North West Circuit so I'm expecting there to be quite a difference. After enduring those eleven long days of physical and mental hopelessness the Milford should be quite pleasant and luxurious by comparison. As well as being so globally popular it's also one of New Zealand's 'great walks', which means you get loads of little goodies like gas and flushing toilets. The huts are even staffed for god's sake so it should be an excellent and rewarding few days. Bring it on!