It all began as a Facebook post early last August from my oldest daughter. She was living in New Zealand to study for a year and travel a bit during her breaks. The picture was of her on one of the swing bridges on the Hooker Valley trail in Mount Cook National Park, New Zealand. I was in awe by the picture and told her how incredible this was. My daughter was spreading her wings to have the confidence to get out on these hikes and I told her how proud I was of her. She replied “Come visit me dad and we can hike this together”. I replied of “How cool that would be”, but was reluctant to commit anything or say anything more due to the costs of flights. Little did I know that after our Facebook interaction my daughter was researching airfares, and messaged with some prices that were far cheaper (but still not cheap) than what I come up with. A bonus if I did come, I would be able to attend her graduation from teacher’s college. I could tell she really wanted me to come. When I mentioned this to my wife she replied, “You should go. It really would mean a lot to Naomi!”
My daughter’s free spirit brought back memories to the times when I was her age when I was spreading my wings. Just like in the way she was becoming. When I was 26 I had travelled to Alaska to volunteer in a remote youth camp. Following that, I enrolled in an intense 3 month mountaineering instructor training program based in British Columbia. It was the best 3 months of my life. Worked for a few months until I got an invite from a peer from the course, “Let’s do some adventure together”. We hiked in Death Valley, backpacked in the Grand Canyon and climbed in the High Sierra of King’s Canyon.
That fall I met the young lady who would one day be my wife. She came from New Zealand, a country I really wanted to visit. People who had visited had glowing stories of their adventures of endless hiking opportunities, superb mountaineering and pristine deserted beaches. As our dating became more serious, to my amazement plans were coming together that not only was I going to visit New Zealand, we were going to get married down under and live there. It was such an exciting time.
My fiancé went ahead of me, while I returned to Alaska to spend another summer at the same youth camp, this time heading up the wilderness outpost division. We ended up being apart for 7 months, a great test for our relationship. This was 1988, before computers, the internet, cell phones and social media. And with phone calls between North America and New Zealand costing over $3.00 a minute, nearly all our communication was hand written letter. Letters that would take 2 weeks to arrive each way.
I arrived in New Zealand two weeks before our wedding, meeting my future in-laws for the very 1st time. The recommended route to get my New Zealand paper’s in order was to arrive with a visitor’s visa, and once married promptly apply for my residency. It was a process that would take a couple of months, and then I could legally work in the country. And while I waited for that residency to process we embarked on an epic seven week backpacking honeymoon of the South Island.
Unfortunately there was a problem. New Zealand was facing one the biggest recessions/economic crises since the Great Depression. Their currency was worth about 60 cents Canadian. Businesses were going bankrupt. Interest rates were around 23% and the unemployment rate soared into the double digits. But the biggest thing for me was the government “freezing” applications for residency and work visas which directly affected me. What was originally to be two months, became three, four, five, six months of waiting. At six months I extended my visitors visa. My savings was plummeting at an alarming rate. At seven months I had a job offer back in Canada and within days we had airline tickets bought to arrive back in Canada within two weeks. All our belongings and wedding presents were shipped back to Canada. And in a strange twist of fate, the day before we were to leave New Zealand, my residency arrives.
We followed through with our return to Canada. I started with my new job, purchased a car for my commute and we found an apartment. Four years into our marriage our first child was born. Ironically the birth of my first child was going to take place around the same time my residency was going to expire. I HAD to return to New Zealand in person to renew it, but it meant possibly missing out on the birth of my 1st child. And I could not do it. My residency did expire and I would have to go through with the process all over again.
Eight months after my 1st child was born we purchased a home. And it becomes harder and harder to pull up stakes. We have settled in the same home for 24 years in a wonderful small community. It has provided stability and wonderful friends for our four children. I love my family so much and have tried hard to work hard and provide for them. I have been very blessed.
Perhaps I analyze too much, but often I will dwell on the “What if’s”, with the biggest one being, “What if my residency had come through just one month earlier?” “Would we still be living in New Zealand?” “What would I be doing?” “What kind of friends would my children have?” The exciting thing with my wife being a kiwi/canuck (New Zealander/Canadian) all 4 children do have dual citizenship. They can live and work in either country.
Deep questions in which there is no real answers. But deep down there have been no regrets. However the “hamster wheel” of the”societal norm” thing has been difficult. The house, the car, the job stress, the commute, the bills and everyday stresses both real and imagined. It all never seems to stop. Is this just me? Are there other people out there that struggle with this? You play the part that all is well, but feel that you are graying from the inside out. Working for the weekend, but then there is so much to do on the weekends. Then when I do get 3 or 4 days off I am stressing out because I can’t relax fast enough.
While some people allow the hollowness of their lives to consume them until they are at zero, so blank they merely exist, others rebel and pursue some of their passions. While faithfully maintaining their family responsibilities, job, marriage and friendships, some men might restore a collector car. Others might take up photography or woodworking. Others might be passionate about having the most lights decorating his house for Christmas, or take pride about having the most beautiful lawn in town during the summer. Others might engage in recreational activities such as golfing, skiing or fishing. Sadly some men might break the family/marriage trust and have an affair, or get pulled into destructive addictions such as compulsive gambling, drugs, alcohol or pornography.
Running has been a help for me. It all started very innocently when I joined a running club 4 years ago at work. In the past 2 years I have transitioned into trail running. The cool thing about trail running is you need to stay focused. I can’t be thinking about hydro bills, my personal struggles and my work while running. If I don’t stay focused I’ll end up with a sprained ankle or get banged and bruised from falling flat on my face. Running helps lower my blood pressure and has a therapeutic effect on my stress and anxiety. The challenge is fitting my running into an already busy schedule. Getting out in the woods with a hydration pack full of water, some on the go energy food and a bear bell to let the neighbourhood bears know of my presence while fitting 2 or 3 hours of running on a Saturday has been a blessing. I am so fortunate I am able to do this. The ultra events, though very tame compared to the allure of the high risk activities I craved for in my 20’s are my “fix” in this stage of my life. Pushing boundaries to see how far or how long I can go, and once attained to push these boundaries even further. It puts me face to face with my bare soul in a way that does not happen with my everyday routine.
So when I shared this possibility of flying to New Zealand to visit our daughter for her graduation and some hiking adventure to my wife and she replied, “You should go. It will mean a lot to Naomi”, it would end up being my 1st real holiday in 12 years and the 1st time back in New Zealand since we got married over 28 years ago (my wife has been back I think 5 times).
It is incredible how this trip would take me full circle to the land I started off my married life with. And the very daughter in which I did not want to miss the birth of was saying, “Come and visit me dad, and I’ll take you on some incredible hikes”. It felt so wonderful to be missed and wanted. It has been an epic 3 weeks where we toured a lot of the South Island.
We traversed snow saddles and hiked up mountains. We got drenched in the remote west coast rainforests. We hiked sea cliff trails which ran just a few feet beside unguarded edges which dropped precariously to the breaking ocean waves a few hundred feet below. We ventured into virgin unlogged forests oozing in their chlorophyll choked glory. We witnessed lots of wildlife in their natural habitat. We visited numerous parks, reserves and conservation areas. I fell asleep on a wild, windswept deserted beach, waking up burnt like a lobster. Each day was a clean sheet adventure.
I ate like a “kiwi”, becoming addicted to their mouth watering, artery clogging fish and chips. I ate sliced beets with everything (beets are great for the heart)…and had them in sandwiches, on burgers and as side condiments (much like we add tomatoes in Canada). And slowly savoured every smooth, creamy spoonful of the kiwi classic…hokey pokey ice cream.
It did my heart so much good to see how well my daughter has done for herself. To be at her graduation. To stay in the cozy little home she is renting with a peer from school and to meet her. To meet the friendly neighbours and to experience the community she is living at. To see the school she will be soon teaching at. And to travel, explore, adventure and bond together so spontaneously using a map and the sun to guide us. It was all so wonderful and put my heart at ease.
I did not bother with the internet or my blog or social media during those three weeks except maybe for one Facebook post and one Twitter post near the end of my holiday. Out on the trails and in the mountains and forests the electronic gizmos all just seemed so foreign and distracting. So empty and out of place. However I did keep a hand written journal and took close to 700 photos, the best photos will be part of 5 or 6 upcoming travel/photography blog posts.
And for the first time in many, many years I was really able to truly relax and push all my cares aside for days on end. During the 2nd half of the time there I was actually able to sleep a solid 8 years night after night after night. Something that literally has not happened in years. Content, at ease, and coming around full circle.