Middle Earth Day 7: One Last Breath

The canyoning trip that I was considering joining unfortunately left earlier than expected so I had to weigh my options as far as what to do for the day. Queenstown is great for thrills as the “adventure capital of the world” but I already skydived and wasn’t too keen on bungy jumping. I asked reception for a good long hike nearby and they suggested the Ben Lomand Trek. At the base of the hike is a gondola that takes riders up to some various adventure activities and saves your legs a good hour but I wanted to complete by the power of my own two legs. Weaving back and forth along the trail I was well covered by the trees that are planted into the side of the mountain. Mixed in with the trail are zip lines and impressive mountain biking paths with high banks, tight curves, and solid jumps, a true daredevil’s dream. I kept pushing upwards as I continued to boil in the heat as my wash cloth became overwhelmed with the overflowing perspiration. Eventually I reached the top of the gondola where it began level out some with short spurts of hills and the terrain was missing the lush tree line that I had grown used to. The land was fairly clear with seemingly dead grass and bush and a medley of worn rocks. During this part of the walk I ran across not a single soul. I had been listening to the sweet sounds of Bon Iver while in the woods but now all I could hear was the melodic whispers of nothingness. The path followed the spine of the hills that led to the base of the imposing mountain that lay before me. At this point in the open terrain, I truly felt one with Middle Earth hiking alongside Gimli, Legolas, and all the rest. I could see Queenstown below, a mere town of 20,000. I could see far out into the distance snow capped peaks but they were hidden mostly by the rising mountains around them. The walk continued onward relatively easily but I questioned my quest for the top of the Ben Lomand track since the clouds grew more threatening and the time pursued nightfall hauntingly. I asked fellow trampers on the path about the time it would take to complete and they all sounded very confident so I forged on. The ascent to the top was a consistent assault on my legs, lungs, and mind. The switchbacks were shorter and the path rockier as the incline grew steeper and sharper. At times, I practically made no progress when my feet barely stepped further than the other; a snail had a solid chance of reaching the apex before me. I asked some English guys how much further I needed to go when I was about ready to keel over down the mountain side. You know the feeling when you are taking a shower and the water is icy cold and a sharp chill runs through your entire body? I felt that but in the lower parts of my legs as it ran upwards. They said ten minutes but it appeared that way for the past thirty minutes. I always felt within reach of the top but it was a sick joke of an illusion. Eventually I managed to find myself atop the mountain and above all else within the surrounding area. After I caught my breath sucking up whatever oxygen that was available to me, I lifted my head and scanned the full panorama. Even though I was ready to become a buffet to vultures, the view renewed my spirit and worn legs. I could still see Queenstown, Lake Wakatipu, and the Remarkables as well as the full expanse of the snow capped mountains that rose far away but seemed within grasp. The sense of accomplishment of reaching the top of mountain all by yourself is a rush unlike any other. Sure people can take helicopters or what have you to see the views from atop the mountain but it feels cheap. It is a painful hurt in pursuit of a goal or rather sense of accomplishment. A girl finished her climb from a different direction and so now I had someone to take pictures with for one another. She asked if I wanted to join her for the walk and of course I said yes. We talked about what brought each other to New Zealand and our shared travels. She told me she was only 21 but had made money as a ballet dancer in New York City. Apparently, she was totally absorbed in that culture and came to a realization she wanted something different with her life. She continued making and setting money aside for her future travels. She traveled through SE Asia all by herself and continued on to New Zealand turning into a hippy in the process and becoming a “60 year old man” as she liked to put it. Hitchhiking ended up being a typical mode of transportation for her so I had her break it all down for me since I wanted to try it tomorrow. She has been working and traveling on and off to make this happen, which I admire her for. She is a girl unlike any other that I have met in my life; funny, zany, and at times a continuous unraveling mystery. Willing to drift off like me, maybe from a lack of sleep, she and I got a tad lost together but eventually found our way while the rainfall continued steadily. She plans to eventually work her way to India and from there who knows. We planned on going to Ferg Burger so that I could try the famous Queenstown gourmet burger restaurant but at the end of the walk she was dead tired and needed sleep for her four day hike to Wanaka. We parted ways hoping to keep in contact as I pressed on to Ferg Burger hungry. The line went out the door and as I waited I chatted with a group of three random people my age. We talked about the the usual stuff until I got my Little Lamby burger. I joined them back at their hostel and chowed down on this non-little burger. It was good but with the gourmet mint jelly as a topping I found the burger way too sweet. They were going to Milford Sound tomorrow too but unfortunately their car would be too packed to fit me in. I needed to prepare to leave Queenstown tomorrow morning so I had to get back to the hostel to make sure I would be ready to wake up for an early start to the day. While packing up, I rewarded myself with some leftover Mac Brewery beers before I called it a night.

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