Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Mount Doom, I conquer you!

Let me preface this by saying I’m not an experienced hiker. I could pretend that I’ve been a hiker my whole life, but let’s face it, I lived on the East Coast and a hike for me was walking down Market Street to get lunch. I lived a lame hiking existence.
So what was I thinking I would be able to do a 19km hike over Mount Doom? It was just a fleeting thought while I was talking to a girl from my hostel who had walked it the day before. And then a growing idea when I saw the weather forecast and saw it was going to be bright and warm the next day. A confirmed plan once I made my deposit for the shuttle, the shuttle that was picking me up at 5:40 am. I seriously must have lost my mind.
Of course this meant I had to watch a preview of Lord of the Rings: Return of the King so I knew exactly what I was getting into. Five other people from my hostel were going the next day, and we piled into the TV room, preparing ourselves for the hike with images of battles in Mordor. I was siked to go.
The break of dawn came and my room awoke with activity, dressing in layers and preparing meals. The shuttle came promptly at 5:40am and we were out the door and on our way. An hour later we were saying “Good Morning” to Mount Doom.

I started out at a good pace, just kept trucking along, making sure not to stumble on the rocks while getting blinded by the early morning sun my sunglasses couldn’t block. I stopped and took pictures, looked around at the landscape around me, and took in the beauty of just being there.
Then I hit the stairs. Those hundreds and hundreds of stairs, one after another, seemingly never ending. I vowed about half way up to add the Stairmaster to my exercise routine when I get home.

But I just kept moving on, watching others breeze right by like it was a walk in the park. Which, if we get technical, it was a park.

A while later I made the half-way point and the trail to head up Mount Tongariro Summit, aka Mount Doom. I looked at the sign, I looked at the trail, and then I sat and had a bit of lunch to think over the possibilities.
Did I really need to go up? Was the view going to be worth it? Would I last making the extra hour and half? In the end I finished my PB&J sandwich and decided I was going to be smart and continue on without going up, which I figured was a smart move seeing as this was my first real hike ever. Plus, I already had my picture that I was there.

The views of the top were something else, just expanses of open sky and fields below. I had to be careful I didn’t get too close to the edge, as I was worried about sliding down. But this did come to pass when I started to follow the trail down the summit onto the Emerald Lakes. 5 times I slide and landed on my bum, twice so hard I’m surprised I don’t have worse burses!
The walk is considered one of the best in New Zealand and I can understand why once I got further along the trail and into more lush landscape. The contrast from the start of the day, with barren ground and absolutely no wild life, to the end of the trail which finished in a rainforest, was truly something I had never experienced before. And though I did find some parts really trying and tough, I’m proud I pushed myself to keep on going…just like the Little Engine That Could!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Week in Wet Suits

I didn’t plan it this way, it really is just the way it happened to work out, but somehow I found myself in a wetsuit three separate days in a weeks’ time. I think this is what happens when you are traveling on a bus that plans out activities for you.

My second day on the Stray travel bus brought us into the town of Raglan, known as the best surf town in New Zealand, and I must say, I agree. We drove onto the lodge grounds, were told to hurry check in and change so that we could get in a land lesson about surfing before heading out to the beach and getting in the water. I had a lesson earlier this year, but still found myself nervous as I walked with the rest of the group up the hill to the lesson building. We were shown a 1, 2, 3, 4 stepping up method that had me thinking too much and I found that once we got out into the water I was worrying too much about my balance instead of just letting it happen. Though I did stand up and ride a couple waves, I do think the best thing about that day was the picture of me doing my best Pamela Anderson beach run.

Less than a week later I was back on the travel bus and onto the Waitomo Caves, which I think was the coolest thing to be in a wet suit for. The area has underground caves; systems I don’t even want to know how people figured out were there and set up the route visitors would take. Through the company, Waitomo Adventures, you were able to take different adventures, such as TumuTumu Toobing, Haggas Honking Holes, and Lost World. I went with the 8/10 Rambo rating Haggas Honking Holes, and even though I’ve never done any sort of abseiling or rock climbing, I felt I was up for the challenge. And again in a wet suit, I was making my way down with the group to caves, which we discovered were very much needed after saw the waves of steam rising from our bodies. This is not an adventure for people who are: scared of heights, fearful of water, timid of the dark, or in any way claustrophobic. I am stupid enough not to worry about any of those things and thus I found myself propelling down a 20 meter waterfall, crawling through a narrow tunnel in water up to my up to my wrist, and climbing my way up a rock wall. It was the most tiring thing I have done in that amount of time, but well worth it in the end when I climbed out on the ladder into the light and didn’t collapse on the ground due to exhaustion (mainly because I knew I wouldn’t have been able to make myself get back up and walk up the hill if I did).  

The next morning’s activity was white water rafting, and this time I had putting on the wet suit like a pro. This time it wasn’t needed as much as the first two times, I kinda just put it on because it was there and I could. Plus you never know when it will be better to wear one than not.

Rafting was so awesome, a rush I can’t wait to experience again! A quick tutorial and we were in the raft floating down a class 5 river. Our group picked it up fairly quickly, though I will say there were some scary points, such as when one girl found herself going head first into the river…and this was after we went over the 6 meter drop and had no one fall out.

All in all, it was a great and adventure packed week of wet suit fun. And even though the whole pull, tug, and shimmy of getting in and out of the suits is time consuming and a little embarrassing, I look forward to getting back out there and trying my hand at perfecting the fastest and least humiliating way of getting into a wet suit.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Stay to the left, stay to the left... Opps! Stay to the left!!

I had to get out of Auckland, out of the city, and wasn’t ready to get on a bus and travel with other people. So I hired a car (because that is what they call it here) and then worried for a couple days about driving on the wrong side of the road.
The night before I was to leave I packed back up and said bye to my new friends then was a little melancholy about leaving my hostel…which I thought was strange and bizarre, since just the day before I was saying how much I couldn’t wait to leave. But I had started to enjoy looking out my window and watching the cars drive along Queen Street and the people coming and going. It was my own private TV.
But Monday morning I was up and out waiting for my pick up from the car rental, nervous about not really knowing the driving rules and such. I ended up paying the extra insurance per day on my car because, one I didn’t know exactly how I was going to do, but mainly because I didn’t want them to charge my credit card and then have to pay the fee at the end of the month (I’m trying to be frugal with my limited funds at the moment…). So they packed my things in the car, I adjusted the seat and creeped out onto the road, then onto the SH1 north.
After about 30 minutes I was fine, driving along with everyone else out of the city and out into the country. What was I worrying about?
I stopped for coffee, at a park with a settler’s house, and a couple beaches along my way, never really getting lost, and only once did I pull to the wrong side of the road. All in all I think that day of driving was a success.
This one's for you Antoinette!

Ha! How cool and random?
It was a couple days later when I traveled to the west coast to the Kauri Forest that I ran into a bit of trouble.
Care free tracking through the Kauri forest...
I drove out of town with a little more than half a tank of gas, thinking it should be enough to get me by for the day, or I would stop and get more. No. One thing I learned about New Zealand and back roads is that there are not a lot of gas stations around. There I was after visiting the Kauri Forest, thinking I was driving the right road to get back to Piahia when the “I need gas” light blinks on. I started praying to God, blessing myself and telling him I will never leave town again without a full tank of gas if he would only help me find a station. I kept driving until I came across a truck picking up the mail on the side of the road and when I asked where the closet gas station was I was directed in the opposite direction of which I came. A few choice words popped into my head at that moment. If not for the kindness of this Kiwi woman and her children, who took pity on a stupid American girl, I am sure I would have had to walk quite a ways just to get to the closest station.

So the lesson I learned that day? Always know where your gas stations are, know how much and fast your car guzzles gas, and never leave a town without filling up if you plan to drive aways.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

The British Empire lives on.

I have had two British roommates in my room at my hostel for the past three nights or so and they have been kind enough to tell me every word I pronounce wrong, tell me about shows I have never heard of, and basically make fun of my American ways. I put up with this because I find them genuinely delightful and funny and know they are only kidding around.

I thought they were kidding around when they told me about having a chocolate flake in their ice cream. No, they were not.

When I first heard of this, I confess, I was extremely confused and had no clue what they were talking about. Why would you put a single flake of chocolate in your ice cream? Wouldn't it be better to have it covered in a hard shell or with sprinkles?

Yes, it would. I am sad to say I was very disappointed with my chocolate flake. From the way my new friends were talking, it should have been the best thing I ever ate, with little bits of chocolate falling off as I ate. This did not happen and I found it didn't flavor the ice cream either. But some how this fade reached all through out the British Empire, which includes New Zealand, and I am learning is a very popular treat.

So popular, in fact, you can get a double flake or a double flake dipped!

I think I'll just stick to my boring American ways and go with dipped...or sprinkles!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Yes, Virginia, there is time travel.

You can’t die from re-circulated air. I am now living proof of that after spending 24 hours without any form of fresh outside air. I left Philadelphia around 12:30 in the afternoon Friday, after hanging around the airport for a couple hours, and proceed onto Chicago and then San Francisco. 12 hours after leaving home I boarded the plane for my Auckland, New Zealand flight. I was lucky and slept most of the way. 

13 hours later I walked through customs and out into the first fresh air I had in 24 hours. I also had completely passed from Friday into Sunday without a stop in Saturday.  

Arriving so early in the morning as I did, I wasn’t able to check into my hostel until later in the day. So I checked my bag, bought some Internet time (because internet is rarely free in New Zealand), and then headed out to the Domain to enjoy the fresh air. It was a little bit of a walk, or “a good stretch of the legs,” but worth it being outside. The Domain was also where the Auckland Museum is located.

This building holds a wide variety of exhibits from the Maori culture to natural history. I was impressed with the depth of information located in one building…even if I didn’t read a thing, it was still nice to view the objects and feel like I was learning a little about the locale area.

On my walk back I discovered the street was blocked, bandstands had been erected, and a mass of people were gathered on the street out in front of my hostel. I had no clue why they were there, but was happy to be able to cross the street and get into the building to check in. 

 I later learned it was the annual Santa Parade. Care to compare it to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade?

After unloading my bag in my new room, I met up with my friend and headed for a tour around Auckland. That;s the Sky Tower behind me to the right, the tallest building in the southern hemisphere and about a block away from my hostel.

Since I did completely skip over Saturday and into Sunday, I was pretty tired and forced myself to stay out and about until after 7pm. It was still light out when I fell asleep, it being summer here and all, but I didn't care, I had been awake since 3am Auckland time and couldn't hold my eyes open another second.
Travel, no matter what kind, is very tiring...

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Where did my room go?

It is way less then a week until I leave on my trip to New Zealand. I'm excited, I'm stressed, and I'm still not packed.

In my head I thought I would be further along then I am. There were piles building for the past week, items I didn't want to forget, piles for my carry on, things to give to people, and I figured a pile for my pack would emerge in there. It didn't until this morning.

I went through my clothes and packed my bag. Then remembered I needed shoes and unpacked. I put in a few items, take one out. It reminds me of the phrase which goes something like "To not look over done, look in the mirror and remove one item before leaving the house." I keep looking in the mirror.

My room looks like my dressers and closet spewed all my clothing everywhere! But it makes me ask, what would you not be able to leave behind?

Monday, November 7, 2011

It's NaNoWriMo!

Last year I discovered a non-profit organization that host a month long writing fest, National Novel Writing Month, for those of us who have the bug. It is set up to prove you can write a 50,000 word novel when you set your mind to it. I didn't "win" last year, but that's ok. I'm going to try harder to win this year. The prize? Just the joy and knowledge that you completed a novel.

I've come close to completing a novel. And when I say close I mean half way. It was a silly story, just some fluff I had a dream about and something countless romance novels have written about before. I have read countless romance novels, so I know what I'm talking about. It was not the first work of fiction I wanted to complete.

Every writer hopes to write something that people want to read. It is, at least for me, a very personal thing to write down your ideas and thoughts, no matter the format, and put them out into the world for others to read and criticise. Because it doesn't matter how good we think something is, someone else will find a fault with it. This works as a block for me and part of the reason I didn't finish last year. I read over and re-think my work too often and lose focus on my plot to continue on. I am learning to fix this.

But I think a main reason I have not completed a work of fiction is timing. I just never found the time to work on it, I really need to make it a priority in my life, and I never have before. I also felt I didn't have a space to work where I live, which for me is a major deterrent for writing. I wasn't inspired or motivated.

So what's changed this year? Nothing. In fact, here I am planning to move to another country and I still sign up. Realistically, I don't think I'll finish 50,000 words by November 30th. I'll be lucky to reach 25,000. But I like the idea of putting everything else aside and going after that dream, whether you can write or not, and think it is pretty awesome.

And who knows, with my long flight I might actually have the time to make 50,000 words.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

I won't be here for that.

Soundtrack:  Nicki Minaj featuring Rihanna- "Fly"

My work visa arrived!!! It's sooo pretty, all shiny and official!!!
I'm not sure if you can tell, but I'm pretty excited. I wanted to take a picture to show everyone, but thought better of it, as there is information I don't think would be smart to post...

Needless to say, this is really happening...I'm moving to New Zealand for a year. It hasn't hit me yet. In my mind I still have a ton of things I need to do before I pack and leave, though I know the time will be here quickly and before I know it I will be at the airport waving goodbye. But it hasn't hit me yet.

That is not to say it hasn't hit those I am leaving behind. They are starting to realize I will be gone after Thanksgiving. They won't be able to count on me to complete a project after that, be able to work a random day, or even meet up for coffee. As it stands right now, they are more upset about this than I am. Then again, I could be in denial.

I do have moments when I think "Oh, I won't be here for that." These times come about mainly when I'm watching a movie preview or TV show. I don't know why it occurs to me then, even I think it's weird that it does. You would think these thoughts would come about while talking to friends and family, co-workers about upcoming projects...those things don't bother me. In fact, I'm kinda looking forward to no being home for Christmas. Now that really makes me sound weird, but here's the explaination (and I think you will agree). Chrsitmas is a stressful time, not for me mainly, but for just about everyone around me. People are rushing after work to the stores to purchase gifts, wrapping and tagging those gifts so they can be given to the right person, and making plans in the rest of their limited spare time to party with friends and family. There are meals to be organized and prepared and end of year projects that need to be completed. And just about every year I build everything up in my head and get disappointed in some way or another.

But not this year. This year I am not making any plans. I'm not buying any gifts (sorry family, you'll just have to do without). I'm not cooking anything or attending any holiday parties. And I'm perfectly fine with that.

At least in my state of denial I am.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Dancing Queen

Soundtrack: "Dancing Queen" - ABBA

I have watched countless movies where the leads meet while dancing, fought while dancing, and, as always, fell in love while dancing. I always laugh while dancing. It doesn't matter if it's ballroom, bouncing along to pop hits, ballet, or, this past weeks dancing excursion, colonial dancing.

That's right, I went colonial dancing. And I had a great time! I will confess to participating in this activity previously, but as I am far from proficient at this type of dance, it felt like the first time all over again. Now, this is not something I would have thought to go to on my own, I went with a co-worker so we could learn some dances for an upcoming work event. On arriving we wrote out our name tags and were introduced to everyone, I was surprised to see how many people showed up, then partner up for the first set (I'm not familiar with the lingo, but I think that meant the line the men and women form while facing one another). As usual, there was a shortage of gentlemen, so I started the evening filling in as one, ready to learn the steps and moves for the first dance. And then the music started, we were "giving honors" (bows and curtsies, and we were off dancing down the line.
Now I didn't just magically know the steps, that would have been fabulous, an instructor called out all the steps, over the music, directing where we were to go. I knew I was making mistakes, but everyone was so kind and generous, politely guiding me to where I needed to be, that I didn't care I was wrong. I smiled so much my cheeks started to hurt, I almost felt bad about laughing, but I was enjoying myself too much to care. With the music playing I felt like I had stepped back in time...or onto the movie set for a 16th century film.

Eventually I was able to step in as a lady, though it didn't seem that different as dancing as the gentleman. I did get yelled at for anticipating a step where the man was suppose to advance to the lady...I did that ever time it came around, completely oblivious to the instructor yelling "Marcie, let the gentleman come to you!" Good life advice there.

Turns out though, I'm a pretty good dancer! I pick up the steps fairly quickly, mainly from my ability to listen and follow directions and my inner sense of rhythm. Would I do this again? Well, that's kinda out of my hands, as I said I would help with the event at work. But I think I would venture to attend another dancing session, even though it will in no way help me get a head in life (how would that look on my resume as a skill?).

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The start of a new adventure!

A few months ago I decided to make a huge change in my life and move clear to the other side of the world for a year, specifically, to New Zealand. I will not take the credit for coming up with this, that belongs to my friend, I'm just piggy-backing off it. But after this previous year of little direction, and no career advancement, I felt it would be good to shake things up and try something new.

How to explain my reasoning behind this...can I tell you I just have a good feeling about it, that it feels right? No? Yea, I didn't think you would buy that. What I can tell you is that when what you are doing isn't working it is time to try something new. As my other friend repeats to me, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. So I have decided to leap off that insanity merry-go-round and go in search of those different results.

Why New Zealand? (Which I would then say "Why not?" if I wanted to be a smart-ass...)15 years ago I traveled with a student ambassador group to both Australia and New Zealand, and though, when I mention this trip, I always say Australia first, it was New Zealand that stole my heart. With just over a week to travel there, we only saw the north island, but that was enough for me. Of all the places I have been, that has been at the top of my list to visit again. And who wouldn't want to chase summer?

Everyone asks what I'll be doing down there when I tell them I am leaving. You see the disappointment and confusion when I tell them I have very little planned and basically that is the point. In the past I have never made a step without knowing exactly where I will be landing my foot next. This trip is a way for me to expanded my horizons and see what I can do when I just let go and let life happen, rather then follow a plan.

But it will be hard not to plan activities I want to do, such as skydive, surf, sail, and snowboard. Maybe I'll start telling everyone that is what I'll be doing when they ask.

Monday, September 26, 2011

...Beats the gym!

Last week I picked up and sailed away. Literally. 

I work for a non-profit organization where our main attraction is a 17th century sailing ship, a replica built in the 1990's. We have a shipyard and educational lessons, but let's face it, what brings the people in is the ship and the chance to take a sail on it. And that's just what I did.

Taking advantage of a free afternoon, I forwent heading to the gym and instead headed towards the dock, bordering the ship with an educational group. I wasn't looking to join the lessons (I had already sailed once with an education group earlier this summer, so had seen the stations), just to spend some time out on the water and enjoy the afternoon experiencing something different. 

The weather was a bit overcast and a little chilly, but that didn't stop me. I arrived down at the dock, waited to board the ship...and it started to rain. Not hard enough to cancel the sail, but enough to get wet. I was still undeterred and walked the gangplank onto the ship brimming with optimism it wouldn't rain more. We set sail down the river and under the draw bridges; I sat enjoying the view, half listening to the learning station right in front of me, soaking up the freedom of being outdoors. And, again, it started to rain, though this time a little harder. I was able to take cover back at the helm where I watched our progress down the river by the passing landscape and the electronic tracking devise, which I found endlessly fascinating. The ship turned around and we sailed up the river back to our dock, passing the shipyard and the other riverside attractions. 

An hour and a half after we started, we pulled into dock and departed the ship. It rained for the majority of the trip, but that didn't take away the fun of being out on the water, in fact, gave me a new prospective for sailing. Because it is true what they say, "A bad day on the water beats a good day on land."

Sunday, September 18, 2011


This past summer I worked basically everyday. I'm not complaining, it was my choice. I have a goal and opportunities were given to me I wanted to take. But at one point I was employed by five different places. It was crazy and I was stupid.

I have since learned the importance of days off and taking time to relax.

(You may be thinking how does this relate to the idea of this blog? But it does, trust me on this.)

When you are working so many days in a row you tend to get caught up into the mindset of "where do I need to be next?" Juggling work schedules so you can keep up with your commitments is a lot more exhausting then even I originally thought. I had done it before, but never to the extent of having somewhere to be everyday and some days multiple jobs. Before this summer I always had at least one day off a week, a day to wake up late, check email, and run errands. I never knew how important those down days were until mid August when I realized I had only had a small handful of them in the past three months. And it being summer, I had used those days to head to the beach, which is relaxing, but requires travel.

So imagine my surprise when I discovered I had a couple days with nothing to do and no where to go at the beginning of September. The first thing that popped into my mind was "where should I go, what should I do?" And then I started to feel guilty that I had the days off. It took a lot of will power to just tell myself to do nothing, not to plan anything, and just laze about the house. I felt a bit antsy, like I had forgotten to do something and was missing an appointment, but eventually was able to turn off my inner running list of things to do and enjoy my book, watch tv movies, and just plain relax. I pushed back my guilt over not giving my employers all the time I had and taking some of it for myself. The next day when I went into work I was well rested and clear of mind, ready to handle anything that came my way, a state I had not accomplished in a couple weeks. I had even crossed some things off my to-do list, freeing myself of those burdens.

My point? Taking a day to do nothing is just as important to living and experiencing life as going out and doing something extreme. Down time, as everyone will tell you, helps to refresh your mind and body, preparing you to take on whatever there is coming at you in life. It helps you to catch the truly important things, like laughing at a joke with friends, reliving memories with family, or discovering what you like to do when no one else is around to entertain you. I've learn to relish and cherish these days I have no obligations and to take them as the re-charge needed to keep my life moving and exciting.

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Idea

I know you are thinking this is a bit morbid, but let’s think about it, your obituary is the last thing people learn about you. And how do you want that to read?
“She was born, raised, and lived in her hometown her whole life. A hard worker, she was a valued employee.”
That’s the best I can come up with right now. I’m not satisfied with that.
One of the founders of the store I work for passed away recently. His obituary read of a full life, one of accomplishments and achievements. This got me thinking about my life, and admittedly, reading the obituary column in the local paper. Some were sad, having passed away far too young; most were standard. Some were boring.
I decided I didn’t want a boring obituary. Or even a standard one.
Not only did I not want a typical obituary, but my ten year high school reunion arrived and I realized I had done very little with my life and had nothing really to show for those past ten years.
So I made a pack with myself, I would live a life worthy of an extraordinary obituary. This meant taking chances, living out side the box, doing things that scared me, not doing what is expected, but doing things to make myself happy. Also included in this is trying something I may not want to do, because you honestly never know how one event might influence another. I told myself I have to do one obituary worthy act a month…and then I changed that to every two weeks. I changed that again to every week.
So what can I do different each week? What will count towards my goal? There are the extremes; sky diving, bungee jumping, white water rafting. I can write a song one week, a poem the next. Travel to some place I’ve never been, either far away or local. Stay up all night to watch the sun rise. The point is to do something and create a tale from it, which sometimes may not be a nail biting exciting one, but it may also be thought provoking, funny, or simply sweet.
This week’s adventure is making myself accountable for this pack, thus documenting my progress here.