Helicopter to Venus

For the last six weeks, as I’ve stood chained to the coffee machine, beans grinding in one ear, blenders blending in the other, microwaves beeping, extractor fan extracting, tourists trying to get my attention to ask me where the toilet/bus stop/start of the track is, where can they fill their water bottle, where can they put their rubbish… Through all this I’ve maintained a shaky hold on sanity by visualising myself walking in nature, pack on my back, not a care in the world other than making it to the next hut.

Last week I finally got to live out my fantasy. I went tramping for six days, by myself, in the Kahurangi National Park. My last day at work was a Sunday, and by Monday lunchtime I was walking along the Wangapeka River, revelling in the beauty of my surroundings, with only blue ducks for company. Not only did my tramp mark the timely completion of my job but it marked the end of the season as well. Taking a week out to just walk and think seemed like a symbolic way to shelve the summer that was, before blowing the dust off autumn and delving in.

I made a rookie error on this tramp: I didn’t take any tape or plasters in case I got blisters. I’ve had the same tramping boots for over 10 years and I’ve never got a single blister in all that time, even when they were brand new. But after my last tramp I let my boots dry out for too long before waxing them and I think they must have shrunk a little. By the time I cottoned on to what was happening it was too late and the blisters turned into raw, weeping sores that grated with every step. This certainly put a bit of a dampener on things but I managed to procure some second skin and then some tape from other trampers along the way. By the end, one of them was starting to get infected, but it’s come right now.

I covered about 100 kilometres in the six days. I travelled up the Wangapeka River, over the saddle and down into the headwaters of the Karamea River, then cut through the Lost Valley before reconnecting with the Karamea River and following it for two whole sun-soaked days. I then headed up the Leslie River to the Tablelands, over Gordon’s Pyramid and down to Flora car park where my guy met me with Baileys and ice cream.

Whoever named the creeks that flow into the Karamea River had gods and galaxies on their mind. After Moonstone Lake, the creeks of Orbit, Apollo, Mars, Thor, Atlas, Mercury, Venus, Jupiter, Saturn and Silvermine join the mighty Karamea on its true left, while Lunik, Star, Comet, Satellite, Apogee, Perigee and Sputnik Creeks join on the true right. Maybe the name-giver was just buzzing out on nature as much as I was, and getting a bit cosmic on it.

All in all, it was a fantastic, although challenging, tramp. Sometimes I just had to stop and gaze in wonder at the sheer beauty that was all around me: the endless expanse of bush bisected by that stunning river. A river which spoke to me in a language that I couldn’t fully understand but could generally catch the gist of – a language of time and seasons, floods and droughts, landslides and earthquakes. Sometimes the river gurgled merrily, carefree, over and around rocks, other times she flowed sullen and silent, pouring herself lazily into huge, deep emerald-green pools, wrapping herself around her hidden treasures and secrets.

Other times, I couldn’t care less about the scenery and just had to focus on putting one foot in front of the other, like during the three hour climb up out of the Leslie Valley. I tried to steer my thoughts away from the heaviness of my pack and the discomfort in various parts of my body. When I found myself cursing that damn hill for its steepness and endlessness I distracted myself with happy thoughts: I reminded myself of all the good things in my life, everything I’m grateful for and everything that I have to look forward to.

Finally, just when I thought that I couldn’t go on any longer, I emerged out of the bush into the expansive, open wilderness that is the Tablelands. Suddenly I recognise my surroundings: Mt Arthur and Gordon’s Pyramid, and all at once I feel very close to home. Gordon’s Pyramid sits squat and fat like a Buddha, teasing me, challenging me to climb its slopes. How could I say no?

Sitting on top of Gordon’s Pyramid I literally felt like I was on top of the world. A vast panorama of pristine wilderness stretched out in every direction before me, extending as far as the eye could see. I looked back in the direction I’d come, sometimes hobbling, other times galloping, but it was just me that got me here – no cars, helicopters, boats or aeroplanes, just me and my trusty legs.

There’s a very simple satisfaction that comes from getting somewhere under your own steam. Carrying everything you need on your back, leaving all of life’s trivial little stresses by the wayside. Walk, eat, sleep, walk, eat, sleep; life becomes very simple.

This post is named after two of the huts on the track: Helicopter Flat Hut and Venus Hut. I think I’ll do this tramp again, in another 10 years or maybe sooner; it was just so beautiful! The following photos are displayed in the order that I took them. I hope they will give you some appreciation of the landscapes I was travelling through.

The nine day challenge that didn’t end

By the end of my last six weeks with no no-drinking rules I felt decidedly disgusting. I was bloated and lethargic and exercise had somehow crept right off my agenda. Sure, I move around at a moderate pace for most of my waking hours, and I train with my clients, but that’s at an intensity that’s right for them, not me. Plus, my last drinking day had been a doozie – Baileys, red wine and white wine all in one day. I needed to snap myself out of my stupor; a physical challenge was in order!

I’ve talked about Mike Chang’s workouts before, they’re fairly high intensity, 20 minute sessions made up of a variety of bodyweight resistance exercises, something that anyone can fit into an already busy schedule and do in the comfort of their own homes. You watch the video and you do what you’re told – easy. The first one is a fitness test where you do a series of six exercises, each for 45 seconds, for a maximum number of reps. Watch this video for the demonstrations. The next eight workouts alternate between working the upper body and lower body, and once you’ve made your way through them all you do the fitness test again.

Unexpected things started happening once I adopted a daily exercise habit. I thought it would be a real drag fitting the workouts in, especially on the three days where I work from 7:00 AM until 3 or 4:00PM, but I found myself diligently getting up at 4:44 AM (because it looked cooler than 4:45) and getting them done early. Within a few days it felt more normal to do them than not to do them – which is all a habit is really. Then I found myself wanting to do more exercise; it is only 20 minutes a day after all. One day I went for a run, another I went to Mum’s yoga class, and then the other morning I found myself casually picking up my kettle bell and giving it 50 swings in between my sun salutes and spinal rolls.

But this is the best part: once I got through all the workouts and did the fitness test for the second time (results are in the table below) it seemed silly to stop, so I just kept going. In the last 15 days I’ve only missed one day – I was tired and in need of a break so I met a friend at the beach instead of being a slave to my workouts.

Exercise 05/02/14 13/02/14 24/02/14
Push ups 22 37 33
Jumping squats 27 33 40
Mountain climbers 75 90 96
Burpees 13 13 16
Butterfly 23 31 31
Prone knee to elbow 20 28 38

I’ll keep going until it’s time to do the fitness test a third time, then I’ll decide if I want to carry on. This is what my back looks like at the moment, the light is in my favour, but the muscles are all mine.

I did the fitness test for the third time this morning – a pretty good result. I would’ve liked to have done more push ups but my triceps were still sore from doing a Muay Thai session with teenage boys a few days ago. At least I improved on the blasted burpees!

230 reps

The other evening I was browsing the internet when I happened across a YouTube video of Mike Chang doing one of his workouts. I don’t really get off on guys with no armpit hair doing lots of pull-ups but there were several things that appealed to me about what he was doing. Firstly, he’d chosen several different exercises to do, and the number of repetitions he wanted to do of each exercise without really knowing how it would pan out. Secondly, he didn’t know beforehand how long it was going to take or how many reps of each exercise he’d do each time.

I like this because it introduces an element of unpredictability to a workout. Usually, when I do interval training I’ll set my timer for my work time and rest time, and stop working when the timer tells me to. I like the idea of going until my body tells me to stop, rather than relying on an external influence telling me what to do.

So I thought I’d give it a crack. I chose four exercises: kettle bell swings, kettle bell clean and presses, dumb-bell press-ups, and Swiss ball crunches. Here’s a video I made demonstrating exactly what I was doing.

DSCN2389

I’ve gone through this workout a couple of times now, and the breakdown of reps has been pretty similar each time. Both times, the exercise I’ve found the hardest is the dumb-bell press-up, which is not what I expected. Turns out I can swing a kettle bell until the cows come home, but a modified press up is a real challenge. I guess that’s because the kettle bell swing is all about glutes and quads which are big strong muscle groups, whereas the press-up uses smaller upper body muscles – the pecs, triceps, and front shoulder. Being of the fairer sex, these muscles don’t get strong unless you put in a lot of work.

The first time round I wasn’t really concerned about my time, I was focusing more on good technique. Plus I had no time to try and beat. The second time round I was hoping to do it quicker but I was also trying to compare how I felt exercising in the morning before eating with exercising in the afternoon after a good lunch.

There’s so much scope to play around with this style of workout, the options are pretty much endless!