Mobilized by a Borrowed Bike

I got to borrow a bike. For one week I have a pretty nice mountain bike.

My evening shifts at the pizza place has made going fishing impossible. The two hour walk to the river mouth too far, and honestly going on any walk after a shift at a busy restaurant seems near impossible. My feet are always swollen, my face greased from pizzas steaming into my face all night, and my legs ache; the couch is usually my go to. But a bike, a bike opens up new doors, because I get to sit, obviously I’m still using my legs, but I get to sit.

The other night I got out of work at an early 8pm so I immediately went home and grabbed my rod, sweater, and rode off on my newly acquired bike. I biked on the white gravel path that turns with the banks of Lake Wanaka and has side paths that branch off and lead to private beaches that beg to be explored. I took one the side paths, not very gracefully since I am not very use to mountain bikes, and skidded onto the empty stoned beach that had thick moss reaching into the water. The moss was vibrant among the gray and black stones and the moss grew darker and filled as it crept into the water. Hydrating and filling as each little wave crashed. It was cold and it was about to be night but I couldn’t just sit at the waters edge. My feet felt the cold and the air left my lungs in a loud exhale. I walked as fast as I could on the slippery rocks and as soon as I could I jumped in and swam against the waves. I couldn’t see anyone else, the bike path was empty this late at night, and the mountains were shadowed with the setting sun.

I still had a few kilometers to bike until I got to the river. My legs pumped, my heart followed, and the cold water shed from my warming skin. I biked past the busy river mouth because I had a bike to take me further. I ended up on a moss beach. It was a beach of thick moss with no trees. The bank dropped quickly into the water where the clear blue water was knee high. It was so pristine I just sat for a moment, glad I could bike beyond the normal river mouth. Slowly I set up my rod and as I did I saw a long rainbow trout swimming right at the bank. It was so close to me, so clear, I almost put down my half made rod and jumped in the river to grab it. I shook the nonsense out of my head and figured I might want to stick with a rod and fly. I began to put my rod together quicker and watch the water more keenly. A father and son came up next to me and asked me if I saw the fish. I could see the dad’s excitement become greater and greater and his son mirroring him. I didn’t have my fly tied on my line yet so I let the dad fish that spot, see if he could catch the taunting rainbow. He didn’t catch it and he generously gave me my spot back once I had my fly tied on. I gave the little boy my polarized sunglasses so he could see the fish, just like my dad use to do for me.

After bites, a few little yells of frustration, desperate tugs of the line and the sun set I decided it was time for me to go home. I asked the father and son what they were doing at this little spot, since not many people got there. The dad told me that his father took him to this spot when he was his sons age and that’s when he started fly fishing. He told me it took him ages to find the spot since he hadn’t been back to this exact spot since the day his father took him out. Now he was there with his son. Letting him pick out the flies, pointing out where the fish would be, beginning to teach him the art the same way his father did for him.

None of us caught the fish that night but each of us smiled. We all knew how special this moss beach was, how amazing it was to be able to see a fish that close and in such clear water. We walked only thinking about that rainbow trout but we also knew that the fishing that night wasn’t about the fish at all, at least for them.

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The Good and Bad

While I’m here in Wanaka working and living I have had the time to look back and see my full experience so far, which includes my good and bad days.

We post what we want everyone to see. A life represented in pictures that have been filtered through social media to preserve smiles. We all know this because we all have Facebook, Instagram and whatever other social media that for fills your needs. We don’t post about our bad days nearly as much as we post about the good days. While traveling I’ve tried to keep a balance of what I send back to people, what information I’m giving them, I want to be true and honest to everything that comes with traveling alone. It’s not always just beautiful sunsets and gorgeous river, sometimes it’s beautiful sunsets and gorgeous rivers accompanied with a horrible day or mood. Horrible days still happen in beautiful places.

I have had my number of rough days that seemed like they would never go away but always washed away with the sunrise. My hard days are what I’ll remember because those are the days I saw myself. When I first started traveling and had a bad day I would get mad at myself for having a bad day, I’d tell myself I’m not allowed to be in a bad mood because I’m in New Zealand. It turns out you’re still aloud to travel in New Zealand even if you have bad days. You don’t always have to smile here.

I had a wet tent for a week in the North Island, had a scary run in with a hunter, been frustrated with fellow travelers, battled a losing fight with sand flies, ran out of money, felt lost in the confusion of plans and no plans and have missed home. I’ve had all those very real moments and those emotions are even more potent when you’re by yourself. When you’re alone a bad day feels like it will never go away, it’s hard to see a good day. When you’re in a bad mood with a friend then there is a hand to help you pull out of the rut but when you’re by yourself it seems harder to get out of that hole. Traveling is all of it. It’s all of the human experience, which means it’s not always full of smiles and that’s okay.

What makes these hard days wash away with the water that rises and retreats back into the ocean on the beaches of New Zealand are my good days. My bad days make good days. They work together, just like the pulling and pushing of the sea edges. I have had sand flies drive me close to insane while alone in my tent and wrapped in my sleeping bag that seemed to become smaller and smaller with each itch, but I have felt the release of my insanity by sharing my strong dislike of sand flies with a hiker on the trail the next morning who made me a cup if Israeli coffee on the side of the trail.

While I have time here in Wanaka to just be in one place, to experience the embrace of stability, I have begun to look back and see my first travels and I see good days and bad days and they both make me smile. Great days that felt so great because of those hard days. Maybe some people travel and are happy each day and that smile that they post on Facebook is always on their face but if I had the opportunity to erase my bad days I wouldn’t do it. My hard days have made my experience just as amazing as my good days.

Life is full of smiles and frowns and traveling is also.

What Even Happened in 2014

2014 flew by in a whirl wind full of avoiding the responsibilities of the real world, misdirection that lead to be the perfect direction and meeting new people, which included meeting a new or forgotten side of myself. All this with a whole lot of bumps and mishaps along the way.

This year has been full of meeting new people, spontanuity, laughter, silence, chaos, and exploration of place and self. Last year at this time I was getting ready to go back to Prescott, Arizona after I broke my foot on Christmas, I was enrolled in what became my favorite class I’ve ever taken, and I had a plan I was sure I wouldn’t divert from. A few months later I got that feeling again, the one where I feel like I’m in a microcosm and I can see outside of the microcosm but I can’t get out of it. Each day made me want to never leave Prescott and also made me want to leave that minute. I loved the people, loved that class I was in but hated the bubble that I was wrapped in. In May I left. My good friend Paul dropped me off at the shuttle station that I had left and arrived I. So many other times. The same shuttle company that dropped me off at the college for my first time (when I literally had no idea where I needed to go to move in), the station that I picked my brother up from to start our road trip across the states, the shuttle station that my three good friends Clay, Conner, and David picked me up from with lasagna in hand because they knew I had a long flight. This would most likely be my last time at this shuttle, I couldn’t think of a reason to go back to Prescott, Arizona, I couldn’t think of one practical reason why I’d go back. At 2am Paul dropped me off at that shuttle station and in my exhausted state I hugged him as if he was Prescott and I said goodbye.

I got home to Vermont became a Wilderness First Responder, ate good food and packed up my car to go drive across the country to Tahoe, California for my summer job. After two weeks home I put in my Harry Potter book on tape and started to drive the Volvo out West. This road trip across the country ended up only being an eight hour road trip because the Volvo smoked up and completely broke in Herkimer, New York. In that desolate town, I’ve never felt so stuck or lonely. Thank goodness my mom and dad love their daughter a lot because they rescued me. Even though I hated to be rescued but if I learned one thing this year it’s that it’s okay to ask for help. And help is what I needed in Herkimer, New York.

I didn’t drive to Tahoe like planned but I got there. My summer in Tahoe at Mountain Camp began. After one day with these new coworkers who were strangers to me at that time I turned 20. I didn’t tell anyone. Until a little but loud Irish lady, who later became someone who I could always turn to help me laugh at the real world with, asked me how old I was and I told her “well today I’m 20.” She was a stranger then but made sure to help me feel like it was actually my birthday.

Mountain Camp was a whirl wind of long days, lots of children, great friends, hanging out in trees on the ropes course with people who made me laugh and beautiful summer nights. Mountain Camp was a also a collaboration of people that when they began to talk their ideas turned into a combustion of inspiration, usually about travel and seeing the world. I had never been around so many other people who wanted to see the world and they reminded me that you might as well do it now. So I did, I booked a one-way ticket to New Zealand.

The decision came easily. It was as though somewhere in my subconscious I always knew I wouldn’t go back to school that next fall, but until then I didn’t know what else to do. I remember calling my dad. The most sure decision I think I’ve ever given him. More sure then telling him what college I was going to go to, more sure then telling him I was going to go to Nepal, more sure then telling him I was going to transfer. In all those choices he was also a part in the final decision, but this time I called to tell him a fact not ask him a question.

After a summer in Tahoe I went to Colorado to see friends that mean the world to me. I got to see great music, drink great coffee, see my brother thrive in the real world that I was running away from and live in a home that will always have a place in my heart. My time in Colorado was simple, I didn’t climb, I didn’t do any big adventures but I was with great people, eating great food and laughing a lot, which apparently adds up to one of the most memorable times I’ve had. After all that love and support I ended up here in New Zealand. Goofing around, hiking about, smiling a lot, fishing to catch and release and playing in rivers. Somehow I got here.

2014 was full of big choices that I may have made too easily, I may have made them too quickly, I most likely should have made some sort of pro and con list for a lot of them, but it ended up all okay. A good friend of mine from Mountain Camp helped me gain confidence in my choice to go to New Zealand by saying this “No matter what happens in New Zealand, you’re not going to look back in ten years and say that you wish you never went.” That simple idea has hung in my head and has helped me through some of the harder times over here.

I love all the spontaneity that appeared in my life if 2014 and I don’t regret one of those quick but big decisions I made but I do hope that in 2015 I take a little break from the exciting but exhausting way of life that comes with last minute choices and no plans. 2015 is the year to implement what I’ve learned from following life and to hopefully find some comfort in stability. But who knows, according to my track record that could change in a week.

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Apparently it ‘Tis the Season

Warmth expands molecules and cold shrinks them. The seasons do that as well. The cold of winter brings is all close together for the cold season of ice and snow and keeps us close to our family for Christmas Day.

The calendar tells me it’s Chrismas season. The highlighted box that represents today on my Google calendar keeps scooting towards the 25th of December, leaving fewer and fewer boxes in between. It ’tis the season. That’s what my calendar tells me, that’s what the stuffed Santas around town tell me, but I don’t see it.

Here I feel summer erupting around me. The flowers are radiant and twirl up from the thick green grass, vines crawl up from the flowers and grass to embark on a journey up the sides of a tree. All of them reaching towards the sun. The green pours through the town, around the clear stream that runs through town, and up to the surrounding hills to rest under and beside the rocky peaks. Not a spot missed. The lake is brimming with plants and trees and life. Each green leaf polished from the rains of Spring.

There is a bike path I walk on everyday and every thing is see contradicts the fact that it ’tis the season. The graveled path weaves through the cut grass; hugging the lakes edge. The lake is calm. Still. The edges of the water ripple against black volcanic rock and sink into the deep moss that reaches out from the rock banks. The water so still. Tall trees, vibrant purple flowers, rich greens: summer is coming and so is Christmas, apparently.

Here it’s the season when you breathe again. After a long cold winter, summer let’s you open your chest again and uncurl from the frost ball that formed in the deep cold months. The frost ball my family and friends back home are just beginning to be encased in. Here it’s the season where nights become longer not shorter, sunsets sink into the lake at nine thirty and summer night breezes curl around the lake’s edges. The season of late night beers by the lake, dipping toes in brisk water, bravely jumping off docks, and laughing outside with friends. It’s that season here for me. It’s a great season because of all that, because of the nights, adventures and friends. But it’s not Christmas season.

It’s hard for me to realize that I’m missing Christmas because it doesn’t feel like the season. People ask me if I’ll miss having Christmas at home but the thing I’ll miss more is the time before Christmas. I’m going to miss the whole season. Christmas is so great, so missable, because of all the days that lead up to December 25th. The snow storms, sledding adventures, hopes for snow days, holiday parties, nights inside with hot drinks and good people. Those are the days that make Christmas feel special. It’s being able to turn your Christmas tree lights on at five at night when it’s starting to get dark outside, not ten like here. It’s being home and staying home because it’s too dark and cold to go anywhere else. There aren’t late nights in the winter like there are in the summer. Your with you family more the friends. It’s about being forced by the cold and ice storms to be with your family around the warm fire, not daring to go into the cold.

The days leading up to Christmas are the days I’ll miss. Those are the days I’ll count down until they come again next year. Here I get to fall into the waves of summer and enjoy the sunshine, the summer nights and sunset beers but Christmas won’t be be quite the same without those snowy days.

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Where I’ll be for Six Weeks

A jumbled arrangement of updates on my now stagnant state. It’s so jumbled because as I settle into this new town I realize how much I miss my laptop and it had now become clear to me that editing on a phone is very frustrating.

My wake up time has been pushed back from a steady 6 am everyday, from when I was hiking, to a lazy and slow 9 am. My sleeping habits have been forced to change mainly because outside the world of my tent, purple sleeping bag and orange backpack it’s not normal to go to bed once the sun sets. Also the sun has begun to set late, 9:45 ish. Outside of my yellow tent, now in a world of night owls, people consider going to bed at 1am early. I feel like and old woman. I want to go to bed when people are just starting. Starting to make dinners, get dressed for the evening all around 9pm. I usually want to retreat to my tent and go to bed and wake up with the sun. To go to bed early and without judgement. I’m in a new chapter where I won’t be reunited with my tent for at least another six weeks. So I’ll have to reajust, also the sun is setting later and later. Last night at 10pm the sun was gone but it still faintly lit the dark sky. There will be some long days ahead of me.

I’m living in a beautiful hostel/lodge that is owned by two women. One has a one year old little dude and the other woman is older, about 60-70 years old. The hostel is in the small town Wanaka. A town that after one afternoon of looking around I knew where pretty much all the important things were. The hostel is at the top of one of the streets then you turn right. The information center doesn’t give you a bigger description then this except they add a few directional and gestures to point you in the correct direction.

The hostel has gardens, vegetables and herbs to eat and has wooden walls that nestle me in nostalgic memories of cabins from my childhood in Vermont. There’s no tv, no unlimited wifi and really big community spaces. Sometimes though I do just want to curl up in front a tv and watch the third Lord of the Rings.

My room has a glass door that opens to a balcony. A wooden deck and then a small grass stretch. I have a roommate that always closes the curtains. I love them open. So that way the sun is my slow alarm clock, starting early and never giving up to get me out of bed. She’s pretty intimidating though, so I’ll pick my battles.

My sleeping routine had to break free from my tent life. My isolation had to be left behind too. At a lot of the hostels I walk with my head down, or podcasts playing through my earbuds and ate in peace and spent the rest of my day exploring. Sometimes, despite my efforts to keep to myself interesting people would spark conversations with me and remind me the structure of socializing. Thank goodness they did too, because most of this people I’ll remember for a long time.

Here though. Here I stay for six weeks working in exchange for a bed to sleep in so I have to be a little but more social. It’s a bit hard to not talk to anyone when you live in a busy hostel for six weeks. During this trip I’ve met my introverted self and it’s great, I love not always needing to talk to people, not searching for a group to be part of at the hostel, I love introvert Emma. But being here for 6 weeks, having roommates that’s ill be with for six weeks, I have to find a balance. Have my introvert time and also be friendly. So far this little weirdo is doing alright with social interaction.

The hostel is beautiful, the people are nice and the town is great. It kind of reminds me of a Lake Placid, not quite the same because LP is one of a kind, but they share some similarities. There is a lot if people in spandex in both places. Road bikers and triathletes have found their home here. The beach on the lake is busy with local kids and high schooler, families and couples the lake, much like Mirror Lake, brings the community together. The best part is the mountains on the other side of the lake. They’re jagged and badass looking and still have a sprinkle of snow on their dark peaks. I love seeing snow in the mountains on hot days because it helps my baffled eyes gauge how big they really are.

So after I wake up late I start work at the hostel at 10 am. I start making beds. It’s ironic because I have never made my bed back home and now I was doing it as a job. I am the messiest person and am now working as a cleaner. I have grown a strong dislike for fitted sheets and top bunks, but other then that making a bed isn’t that hard. I still refuse to do it to my own bed though. I work at the hostel until 12 and then have the day to myself, when I job hunt again. This time though I’m not as rushed because I’m not spending money each night, I’m not seeing it disappear as quickly.

Six weeks if podcasts, making beds, and working. I think I can handle that.

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Journey to Wanaka

I’ll tell you about my story tomorrow but for now enjoy these peoples stories.

I am currently laying in the bed that I’ll be sleeping in for the next six weeks. I haven’t been able to say that since last year at school. It feels great. It’s feels even better after my day of travel.

Yesterday I got a phone call from a woman who owns a hostel in Wanaka and she asked me if I could come the next day to start a work for accommodation situation. I was in Queenstown when I got this call. I had just gotten a job as a maid at the big hotel in town and had an interview at Fergburger (the busiest burger place in town, a lot of late night burgers) and I decided I was going to bail and go to Wanaka. After a week of serious job hunting I had finally gotten jobs in Queenstown, but I decided to start the job hunt over. I decided I was going to go to Wanaka. Don’t ask me to explain too much of the reasoning, I just listened to my heart.

So today I packed up my bag again and started walking. I put out my thumb once I reached the edge of town and didn’t get picked up. Hitch hiking alone can be dangerous yes but you also get picked up pretty quickly. Usually the first car or the second picks me up but today, the one hot day so far, ten cars must have passed before I got picked up by a packed van. I must have only waited fifteen minutes but it felt like ages, as standing out vulnerable like that does feel; meeting eyes with the judgmental drivers.

I opened the door to see a young woman driving and three people crammed in the back and further back was piles of stuff. I couldn’t see any space for me or my bag. Things shifted, butts scooted, and hands reached out to help and we re-situated. Israel, Scotland, Holland, Austria and America were all represented in our travelers van. The three in the back got out after ten minutes to get to where they needed and then it was just me and the Israeli woman. She was two years older then me but seemed aged like an 80 year old woman. Her face and tone reflected her exhaustion. Young but exhausted with life already. We still laughed as we shared Queenstown stories. We stopped at a lake that was on the way to where she was going. She talked about stories from her military service, how her American boyfriend couldn’t get what it was like, how they broke up, how she feels she is stuck and can only connect with her people because they all went through
the same experience. She got back into the van after our lake detour and I stuck out my thumb again. Her final destination was ten minutes in the wrong direction for me.

I stood on the side of the pavement again. Stepping closer to the trees when big trucks came by and smiled beggingly as I saw cars with only on driver zoom past me. I thought about how hot it was and hoped my thoughts would telepathically connect with the people driving by and would make them pity me and give me a ride. I don’t know if it was my telepathic thoughts or my smile but a little blue Honda picked me up. I opened the door and the woman didn’t say anything to me and I just asked “Wanaka?” she replied and said a name of a town that I have never heard of. There aren’t many roads in New Zealand so I figured she must be going through Wanaka. I jumped in and used the data on my phone that I now have because I have a New Zealand number. I’m getting more and more engrained into this country. The blue dot in google maps settled my heart as it scooted along the right road. She was a teacher who was originally from Brazil and 12 years ago she married a Kiwi. Hasn’t left since. She was a hilarious woman who just told me stories of all the silly things her 15 year old students had done all week. She turned right and I saw the blue dot go the wrong way so I told her this is where I get out. She waved goodbye and so did I. I looked at the junction sign, Wanaka 53km.

I walked up the road and passed a couple who were hitching too. I’d never come across fellow hitchers before and didn’t know exactly how to interact with them. They were in the spot I was going to go. Could we share? How much further down the road do I have to go? I said hi and they responded quickly with a tone that sounded like they just got in a fight and they were using all their might to fake a smile to me. I decided to keep walking.

Further down the road was a fruit stand. Perfect. I walked by and bought a fresh fruit frozen yogurt. Then I went back to the pavement. I didn’t get picked up for about 15 minutes again. It must’ve been that I looked to happy. I had fresh frozen yogurt in one hand and was listening to the new episode of my favorite podcast “Serial” I didn’t mind waiting on that road all afternoon. The other times I’ve hitched it’s been raining it snowing, today was sunny; I think that’s why it took long to get picked up. Then a van that had “Locksmith” painted on the side came barreling towards me and quickly braked his speeding van to pick me up. I looked in the passenger door and there were ten old coffee mugs on the floor, old chip containers and a clutter of tools in the back. That’s what my car usually looks like so I hopped in.

His face was wrinkled, his forearms burst with aged veins, and his head full hair j but gray. His accent was hard to tell. It didn’t sound like he was from New Zealand, but he was old so he had to be a kiwi in my mind. His accent was a combination of South Africa and Israeli. No wonder I couldn’t figure it out. He grew up in South Africa, moved to Israel at some point and now has lived here for 13 years. He served in South Africa’s army and then the Israeli army. He said they taught him how to shoot a gun well and quickly and also taught him how to drink beer and smoke cigarettes. That’s what he learned, he says. The second question he asked me when I go into the car was if I was an activist. Then for the rest of the hour car ride he went on passionate, well educated rants about America and the military and the world really. He was one of the most interesting people I’ve heard rants from. A locksmith, with a run down van and in dirty clothes was pouring out well formed and poetic rants. I got to Wanaka and stepped into silence again once I left his van. It burned my ears a bit, I became so use to hearing his loud voice for he last hour that silence was weird. As I left he told me that if I write I should be an activist , help educate the ignorant he said.

And now here I am. In a comfy bed that had wood floors and a back deck. The lake is a stones through away and the people are great so far. Wanaka is the like Queenstown but smaller and just for the locals. Maybe it was because it was the first really nice day in awhile or maybe it was all the great people that I got rides with today that are making me feel extra positive but I feel like this is the right place.

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