Living Life on the Edge

All of my life I have searched for a land like this one. A wilder, more challenging country I couldn’t design. Hundreds of dangers await and I don’t plan to miss one. In a land I can claim, a land I can tame, the greatest adventure is mine! ~John Smith, Pocahontas.

Between leading another route at Long Beach, ascending the most beautiful mountain I’ve ever climbed, and my Pocahontas-inspired swan dive off the Nevis Bungee, I seem to be living the life the fictitious John Smith described in Disney’s Pocahontas.

I guess I should begin with Thursday afternoon. It was a nice day out, and Colin and a couple of others were going out climbing at Long Beach again. I went with them. But this time, we’d spending the night in one of the plethoric caves hidden along the beach’s perimeter. As we neared the largest cave, the clouds darkened and blew closer toward the beach. The sky started spitting droplets of rain and darkened further. We reached the cave and set down our bags, hoping the storm would pass over. But it still hadn’t really started pouring.

“Who wants to go out for a climb?” Colin asked.

“No way, the rocks are going to be all slippery,” someone responded.

“Well, I’m going to go out and check.” He left with his gear and two others while the rest of us stayed in the cave, incredulous. Lead climbing is dangerous enough when the rock is dry, but when it’s wet… I didn’t want to think about it; there’d be plenty of opportunities for me to climb later in the semester. So the remaining seven or eight of us waited out the storm inside. But a couple of minutes later, sun started to shine, and through the cave, we saw a rainbow.

“That’s good enough for me,” someone said. “Let’s go find Colin.” So we left the cave; the black clouds had disappeared, nowhere to be seen. It was cold, though. And windy.

We found the climbers near the spot we’d climbed two days prior. The rock, miraculously, had not gotten wet at all, and they were making their way up a new route. I found a route I felt comfortable leading, and about half way up, I got scared.

“Do I have to finish?” I asked weakly.

“Yup,” said Colin. That was enough. I took my time and a couple of deep breaths, and I made it to the top. But in my anxiety, I forgot to anchor myself into the top two bolts before I set up the top-rope for the rest of the climbers. After a couple of minutes of panicked struggles, I finished setting the route and came down. I watched a bit longer as the others climbed, but it was cold, and as the sun started to go down, I found my way back to the safety of the cave with a couple of the others.

Inside the cave, we started a fire. I’d had to rush to get my things together, so I’d forgotten to bring any food with me. Luckily, there was extra bread and peanut butter and jelly, so I made myself a thick sandwich and was satisfied. Later, we made s’mores and then went outside. The sky was bedazzled with stars, and we even saw a couple of shooting stars. When it got too cold, we went inside, set up our sleeping bags, and went to bed.

I almost didn’t make it back in time to catch the bus to Queenstown. With 40 minutes to spare, I finally got home and got dressed and quickly put all my things together before running out to catch the bus at 9:50. I made it.

About halfway through the three(ish) hour drive to Qtown, we stopped for lunch in a little town. But my first stop, naturally, was the bathroom. These were no ordinary toilets, though; these were space-age toilets. The doors slid open with a push of a button, resembling an elevator. Once inside, the bathroom spoke. “You have ten minutes,” said a robotic man’s voice. “After ten minutes, the door will automatically open.” The toilet paper was released by a motion detector, and the toilet flushed when the sink was turned on (also by motion detectors). So cool. And yet, oddly creepy… I didn’t feel alone.

But anyway, I needed lunch. New Zealand does not have a typical cuisine, but it is known for its meat pies. I hadn’t had one yet, and when in New Zealand…. I bought a minced beef pie. It was pretty gross. I ended up squeezing out much of the filling and eating just the pastry on the outside. Oh well, I tried. I’ll try to stick to my yogurt and fruit from now on.

A bit later, we stopped at a fresh fruit stand, where fruit was very, very cheap, and ice cream was not so cheap. But it was ice cream, and it was made with real fruit– they’d put a spoonful of frozen berries into a machine that would mix them into a chosen flavor of ice cream. I couldn’t turn down this delectable afternoon treat. It was mmmmmm.

Finally, we made it to Queenstown, where Jane, our trip coordinator, met us. It was time for some adventuring. First on the itinerary was the Shotover Jet Boat, the most extreme jet boat experience in the world. Check it out: http://www.shotoverjet.com/the-video.

It rained a bit, during the ride, it felt like my face was being pelted by a million litte punches. When I stepped off the boat, my face was set in a numb smile. I imagine it’s how botox feels.

We stopped off at the hostel quickly and then went to the bungee building, where those of us who wanted to bungee jump would be signing up and paying. It was expensive– $230 NZ– but I really wanted to do it. When we walked into the store, there were videos playing. Shit. Shit shit shit. Why? I walked up to the counter and chose the higher of the two jumps, the highest in the country, at 134 meters (about 440 feet). Shit. Well, I’d paid, it was official. No refunds. Shit.

That night, we ate at Fergburger, a restaurant so popular I’d say it easily rivaled the Millburn Deli. I got an interesting-sounding tofu burger (I know, I know… next time I’m going with the meat!!), and it was excellent. And huge. The whole thing would not fit into my mouth. And it was messy to the point of utterly unattractive. Whatever.

In the hostel that night, Laura, Rachel, and I were sharing a room. We went back, and another girl from the group, Courtland, joined us for a while. We talked for a little before remembering the bungee jump. “We’re not discussing this.” We were distracted by the bathroom, though, which was labeled “ablution.” It’s a wonderful word, ablution. Even more wonderful, when the door was locked, it was not occupied, but “engaged.” The ablution was engaged. I like that.

It was that night that I realized my camera was about to die. Crap. I thought It’d had sufficient battery life before I’d left!! I was hiking the Routeburn Track the next day, and I’d be damned if I didn’t have my camera. I’d brought my charger, but in the scurry of the previous morning, I hadn’t even thought to bring the adapter. Great. I crossed my fingers that it was a mistake and I’d have power in the morning and I went to bed.

No such luck. In the morning, my battery was still dead. I’d been told a girl in the room next to me might have her adapter, so I asked… nope. I asked everyone I ran into, but nobody had an adapter with them. Finally I sighed and told them I’d be stealing all their photos from Facebook. But then someone said Bryan might have his with him. With about 30 minutes before our bus was to leave, I found him. He had it! I raced to his room to pick it up and plugged my battery in. And breathe.

The Routeburn Track is famous for a reason. Words cannot describe how unbelievably beautiful this place was, so I’ll leave it up to the photographs, which also fail to capture the stunning scenery in all its glory. Sorry, but for the full effect, you’ll just have to go yourselves.

On the way up, I oscillated between a bunch of people in the group. Twas a nice bonding experience. Once in a while we’d bring up the next day’s bungee jump, but invariably, someone would say, “We’re not talking about this.” And all the talk stopped until the next person brought it up and someone else said, “We’re not discussing this.” Shit.

I brought a carrot to the top of the mountain. I really like carrots…

The way down didn’t take as long. Laura and I talked for a while, and once, she started singing “Live Like You Were Dying,” by Tim McGraw. Totally appropriate, but nonetheless, “We’re not talking about this.” By the time we’d made it to the bottom, we’d completed a 15-mile round trip, and we were tired. I had hotspots developing on my feet, and I just wanted to take off my shoes. I fell asleep on the bus ride home.

The group had pizza for dinner, and then we were free to explore the city some more. Queenstown is amazing. It reminds me a bit of Vail, though I haven’t been to Colorado for years, so maybe I’m imagining things. It’s a young town, vibrant with adventurous-type tourists and locals alike. There are more outdoor goods stores packed into the place than anywhere I’ve previously been, and there are tons of cool restaurants. The city lies at the base of a bunch of jagged, rocky mountains and a lake. Again, no words.

A couple of us walked around after dinner with the next day’s bungee jump looming over us.

“I don’t know if I’m going to be able to eat breakfast,” said one girl. “I think my organs may fall out of my mouth.”

“No. We’re not talking about this.”

“Ok.”

Shit.

The morning came, and I was nervous. I couldn’t finish breakfast. But before the jump was luging, which is like go-carting down a hill, or more aptly, Mario Kart. For those of you who don’t know, I have a bit of a history with a luge-like activity: the Alpine Slide, at Jiminy Peak, in Massachusetts. The summer I turned six, Mom and I lost control of our brakes, and our cart flipped over. I was left with a huge burn on my left cheek and with scars on both of my elbows. The burn on my face lasted a number of years but has since faded, as has the scar on my left elbow. But my right elbow is still scarred and wrinkled when my arm is straight, a constant reminder of what can happen when adventuring goes wrong.

I have not done anything like the Alpine Slide since the summer of 1997. I’m older now and was in control of my own cart, as opposed to being on the cart with Mom last time. I was in control of my speed, and the carts were probably of better quality this time. This time, I wore a helmet. Though I should not have been scared, and for the most part, I wasn’t, there was a tiny bit of trepidation in the back of my mind. I was overly cautious. I did not ride nearly as fast as my fellow lugers. But I did not get hurt this time. I think I’m over my fear.

But there was a new fear looming. FUCK. It was time. Those of us– no more than 15 or 20– who were jumping the Nevis (the tall jump) separated from the group to drive to where we needed to be. The drive over was torment. I made myself an adventure playlist. The last song that played before I got off the bus was “If I Ever Leave This World Alive.” Appropriate.

It was high. Fuck, it was really high. The four letter words running through my head were unceasing. I continually asked myself, “Why?” Why on earth would I ever want to do such a stupid, stupid thing? For the story? The pictures? I don’t know. Fuck.

“A story to tell the children someday,” said one guy. “For the children!” Several more repeated. And then we remembered we weren’t to be talking about it. Not even when we looked over the ledge and saw the river running 400 feet down. Fuck.

A woman with a Scottish accent led us to where we’d meet a gondola that would take us to the platform. Fuck. She told us to jump head first, or else it would be a bumpy ride. Someone from our group who’d gone over a few minutes earlier jumped. Fuck. Someone else went. He screamed. Someone else went. She screamed. Fuck. Four at a time, we rode the gondola to the platform. It was high, so very, very high. Fuck.

We jumped by weight order, heaviest first. I was second to last. Nice. I had a lot of time to rethink my decision. But no. Do it for my future children. “You’ve done way more dangerous things,” I told myself. “Lead climbing is way more dangerous. You can’t get hurt doing this. You can’t.” And I believed myself. I knew I wouldn’t get hurt, nothing could go wrong. I’d heard stories about people’s cords breaking, but it wouldn’t happen here, not in Queenstown. Those things happend in South Africa, South America. Not New Zealand. And I knew it. I wasn’t really afraid of the danger, anyway. Then why, oh why, was I afraid? I didn’t know. But I shouldn’t have been.

It was my turn. Fuck. A man attached some straps to my feet and made sure my harness was set right. Fuck. “Your boots are pretty heavy,” said the man. “You’ll need to pull this a bit harder than normal in order to flip right side up when you’re done with the jump.” Fuck. “Are you ready?” No. Fuck. “Three. Two.” Fuck fuck fuck shit damn fuck. “One. Jump.”

I jumped.

It was fast, like a bandaid. I spread my arms out, imagining Pocahontas’s swan dive into the river from a high cliff. Go hard or go home. I closed my eyes and jumped, jumped outward as far as I could go. A few seconds passed. Wind rushed past me, and it felt like nothing. Then I remembered to open my eyes. For the two remaining seconds, I saw the mountains whiz behind me. I was flying. And then I was on my way back up. And down. And up. I pulled the cord attached to my foot that would make me flip upright, and I flipped. And I was on my way up. And then I was back on the platform. Smiling. A lot of smiling.

“That was amazing.”

I would do it again, I would do anything. I could do anything. I was invincible. Probably not the best thing to be feeling in the center of the Adventure Capital of the World.

I did it.

Whoa.

The weekend was over. We met the rest of our group at the Kawarau Bridge, which was only 43 meters tall, as opposed to the Nevis’s 134. Pssht. But it was nice to watch other people jump without the fear looming over my head… or under my feet.

Queenstown is the most beautiful, incredible, vibrant city. In a couple of weeks, Laura (and possibly a few others) and I will be back for a three-day long bike ride on the Otago Rail Trail, a notoriously beautifu  ride.

I’m ready. Bring. It. On.

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