Eclectic Autodidact: Next year in New Zealand


One of my life dreams is to hike through the backcountry of New Zealand. To sleep beneath majestic mountains. To wander through rolling hills dotted with volcanic boulders. To go days without seeing another human being.

I had originally hoped to make the trip before I turn 30 in, oh, God, nine months, but that looks like it won't be possible.

There are two impediments preventing. First of course is financial. The flight to New Zealand is the longest possible flight in the world and as such costs more than my girlfriend and I can really afford right now. Or in the near future. Basically "Next year in New Zealand" is probably going to become our "Next year in Jerusalem" as it may take 2,000 years before we can afford the tickets.

Second is physiological. We are probably not up to a multiple-day hike at this point. In order to build ourselves up to the point where we can trek the misty mountains, we need to get some wilderness training going.

The first hurdle we need to surmount is getting used to sleeping outside again. It's been almost two years since I've gone camping, even though in that time we've acquired hiking backpacks, top-of- the-line sleeping bags and a food container that even the mightiest grizzly can't open without a flathead screwdriver.

And while I haven't forgotten how to set up a tent, many of my camping skills have atrophied in the downtime.

Last week we went on a test run in the Mohawk Trail State Forest, a place I have driven by an endless number of times but never before actually entered. It was an overwhelming success in that I was more or less able to cook over the fire, we were not eaten by mosquitoes/bears, and we managed to slip in and out in the brief window between torrential rainstorms and murderous heat.

We camped on a night when we were the only ones in our section of the campground. I'd like to believe that I could have fun in a campground when it starts to fill up, to make friends with the other campers and trade stories, to hear the children playing in the gathering dusk, to experience the comradeship that mankind has felt for millennia when sitting around the fire. But I know that 10 minutes in, I'll see someone smoking while they complain about how their iPhone isn't getting service and I'm going to regret that we ever learned to rub two sticks together.

As a follow-up, we're planning a trip to the Mount Greylock State Reservation campsites soon, one of the few areas that require you to walk to your campsite.

The sad thing is that most campsites assume that you'll be coming in an RV. Now don't get me wrong. I know a lot of people don't have the time or the ability to hike a day into the woods before setting up camp. I don't begrudge people their gargantuan campers, nor do I think that those who go camping with a full kitchen on wheels are about as close to nature as the floral section of Stop & Shop. Really. I'm just glad people are getting out at all, even if they have to drag a small studio apartment with them. Anything that gets people off the couch and into the world is a good thing. If they happen to drag the couch with them into the world it's still a net positive.

What bugs me, though, is that bringing enough hardware to build your own Iron Man suit is the default while camping with just a pair of backpacks needs to have a label like "primitive" or "rustic."

It's sort of like how vegetables grown in the same way they have been since the dawn of agriculture get a special label saying "organic" while the ones sprayed with chemicals invented in the 1940s are considered "conventionally grown."

In my mind, towing a camper out into the world is defeating a major part of the point of camping. The purpose of camping is to remind ourselves that, no matter how far we've advanced, civilization is just a few pinpricks of light scattered across a vast globe and the wild is still all around us. And, if we're lucky, we get to wander through it and experience it. Next year in New Zealand.


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