15 January 2007. Taupo YHA.
    Back travelling with Magic. Mudpots, geyser, Wai-O-Tapu thermal field. While I'm sure I didn't see everything, what I did see wasn't as impressive as Yellowstone. But then, like I said, I didn't see everything. The Wai-O-Tapu would be like one single area of Yellowstone, like the Old Faithful area or Norris Geyser Basin. The amazing thing about Yellowstone, however, is not the geothermal features, but the biodiversity of the most-intact large ecosystem in the lower forty-eight. I can't imagine having said that ten years ago, but there it is.
    Once we got into Taupo I took a shuttle over to the airport and, ah, jumped out of a perfectly functional airplane from 15,000 feet.
    The first few seconds were unbelievable, until my mind wrapped around the fact that we were really falling, and really far above the ground. We hit terminal velocity about seven seconds in, at which point the wind speed is so high (~120mph) that it's like getting pummeled. We had about a minute total of "free-fall" before the chute opened at 5,000'. The only thing I can say is that it's similar to the first drop on a good roller coaster, only about twenty to fifty times more so. Or more. Who knows. I was buzzed for at least a few hours afterwards; I still can't quite believe I did it. I got a video of the fall; once I can get back to Idyllwild and the computers there, I'll see if I can extract a still to post. But for now, I don't have anything to show for it.

Bubbling mudpots, caught in the act.

A tame geyser. DOC sets up a scheduled morning eruption by putting in a small amount of soap flakes, which reduces the surface tension of the water and triggers a steam release. Oh, the indignity of it all...

The champagne pool, one of the pools at Wai-O-Tapu thermal field. It does indeed effervesce continually, like the outgassing in champagne. The pool has filled in a 700-year-old phreatic crater; the green coloration in the water comes from colloidal sulphur, while the orange coloration of the shelf is oxidized iron or antimony.

Reflections in one of the terrace pools.

Steam rising off the champagne pool.

16 January. Wellington YHA.
    Took the bus down to Wellington. Not much activity of the day. Picked up a round of new books. Went over to Te Papa musuem and checked out their natural history and environmental studies areas. Ordered tikka masala in, delivery.

Wellington waterfront.

17 January. Nelson. Paradiso Backpacker's.
    Woke up early and took the shuttle to the ferry. Interislander ferry from Wellington to Picton. It was clearing as we left; some nice light mixing in from clouds over the water. A very flash ferry. Stupidly, I was thinking about the weather from the last few days and didn't bring any warm clothes in my carry-on. I ventured outside a few times, but it was cold and windy, so I mostly read inside.
    Picked up the bus again on the other side to Nelson. I got groceries and repacked for the Heaphy track. Thai green curry ordered in.

Boarding the Interislander ferry.

Clouds over the Wellington harbor.

Coming into Picton in the Marlborough sounds.

18 January. Perry Saddle Hut, Heaphy Track.
    Was very lucky and found an existing transport going from Nelson to Brown's Hut, the trailhead. Left Nelson around eight; finally walking at 11:30a. Long drive in with many slow sections. I arranged with my driver, Rory Moore, to take pictures of the huts for him to use on his website for marketing. Unfortunately, I got a low-battery warning only two pictures into the trip, so that's going to make things interesting. I don't know how much of a margin I've got to play with for the digicam, but then again I've got the Mamiya with me, so at least I'll have incredibly high-resolution film to play with. I won't have much to show for the trip online for myself, though.
    A relatively uninteresting walk in. A green tunnel of moss-covered beech saplings. Almost no views out except for a marked lookout at Flanigan's Corner. A constant-gradient climb from ~100m to ~900m in elevation. Very smooth. A wide track, passable for mountain bikes, ATV's, or running.
    About fifteen people staying at the hut tonight. Still odd to be in the nominal backcountry and be around so many other people. I suspect it will still be odd when I leave.

Perry Saddle hut.

19 January. Saxon Hut, Day 2 of the Heaphy Track.
    Short day today. Maybe three hours of hiking. Perhaps one hour through the trees, then out into the tussocklands of Gouland Downs. Open, with broader views than before, ringed by low mountains over 270 degrees, with passes to the northeast, north, and southwest. We'll follow the southwest opening, having come in from the northeast. It looks like a limestone substrate with some shallow caves and a clay-like soil making for marshy ground. Similar to what I imagine the moors to be like in England. Stopped briefly at Gouland Downs hut, then on to Saxon, arriving for lunch at one. Saw some of the same crew from Perry Saddle, but everyone else was continuing on to Mackay Hut, my destination tomorrow. Sun and mixed clouds on arrival; by 2:30 or 3, we'd gotten ground-cloud fog and moderate winds. Oddly, it was reminiscent of early winter in Idyllwild--November and December--but windier and thankfully less wet, less raw.
    I don't know if it's a good thing or not, but my internal dialogue is basically boring right now. On the plus side, you could say that I'm living in the moment and focused on walking and on the weather; on the minus side, I wouldn't say my intellectual life is very stimulating. I suspect I've swung too far over into the physical, or at least for too long a duration, during the sabbatical. What happens next with it? Loose plans have me heading back to Sedona and Verde Valley School, then up to Moab and Four Corners/Bioregions experiential learning, across Nevada to southern Oregon and the people Fern knows regarding homeschooling evaluation. Maybe also Michelle and Jack (Craig Childs?) in Paonia? Have to check online about the Exploratorium's summer programs. I still want to observe at Crossroads and the School of Art and Enterprise in Pomona.
    Waiting to hear back from Anna Li about next year. Don't even know when the information will come. Late January? Mid-February? She said that the responsibilities will be different, but nothing more than that. More? Less? It's disturbing that I have primarily second-hand knowledge about the school right now and that doesn't make any decisions about the future any easier. Painfully, I have to ask who I trust at the school. I know that I at least want to ask the opinion of Jerry, Gary, Lydia, Simone, and Kirsten. And I'll want more dialogue from Anna beyond her likely initial contact. It all feels like too much politics and games, seemingly the opposite from when I hired on. I don't know whether that was ignorance on my part or a change in the school's population of faculty and staff.
    It's hard not to look back on the intensity and immediacy of the first few years and not feel a sense of loss in comparison. Again, how much of that is a real change in the school or faculty and how much is a personal change or a change in perception? To be honest, I haven't felt challenged in the last two years, and that's not a good thing. For myself or for my students. But it really did feel good to be back when I got to Idyllwild last November, and the good days in teaching are really good. Is that enough to base a career on? I never looked at doing this past the sabbatical. I gave Sharon the estimate of three to five years. At depth, I still yearn to be doing something else, something more. Saving the world. Is that just immature? The safe thing would be to return, and that's not a great recommendation.

Gouland Downs hut.

Saxon hut.

20 January. Mackay Hut, day 3 of the Heaphy Track and day 16 of the trip.

    Another short day. Maybe 2:15 to 2:30 walking. Not many breaks, and none after a couple of initial stops for photography. Slept in. A leisurely morning; breakfast and washing up. Left around 10:30am; it started raining about eleven. The clouds descended, fog coalesced, and dripping commenced. It never turned into a full-fledged rain, but I was thoroughly wet by the end nonetheless. Views closed in to a hundred meters or less. I'm losing patience with the weather. It's east to be spoiled by our weather in the western US, particularly the Sierra.
    I still got into the hut in time for a late lunch. There's supposed to be a view down to the Tasman here, with beautiful sunsets. Not likely today. There were a couple of beautiful river crossings, miniature gorges, but I didn't want to stop, either to spend more time in the rain, or to risk getting the camera wet. It's frustrating to be carrying the weight of the medium-format camera without having many real opportunities to use it. I tried a couple of pictures in the forest, but I suspect they won't come out. The shallow depth of field of the medium format was forcing me to use f16 or f22 and ASA100 film was giving me shutter speeds of 16 to 32 seconds under the thick clouds and the forest canopy. There's just too much chance for motion blur at those speeds, even with only a breath of wind. Maybe I'll have to try to learn to appreciate that aesthetic. If I'd known I was going to use the bus system and hostels, a digital rebel would have been the way to go. Between the better depth of field and a useable ISO400, it would have been much more workable in the field. Shame there's no current digicam that would be a good bridge camera for backpacking.
    Something like the 1970's Canon G3; a short 3x zoom from 30 to 90mm in 35mm-equivalent. Fast aperture, sharp from corner to corner, good enough bokeh for portraits. 2x crop factor for small size and weight. Long battery life. Environmentally sealed against dust and rain. Non-powered manual zoom. Respectable ISO800 noise. Image stabilization. Six to eight megapixels, but good pixels. Funny how megapixels are the last thing listed. And if it came in a monochrome version as well, I'd buy a second one...
    Heh. Designing gear while walking is a favorite pastime.
    Also thinking about a pack and gear set for ultralight backpacking and/or running. Silnylon or sailcloth fabric, big enough to use two ground pad sections for support. Carry a sweetwater filter bottle, the mylar composite bag, and a red-bull can stove. I also still need to find hardshell jacket that's more breathable than the GoreTex PacLite, which wets out.
    I met three runners this morning who are doing the entire 82km track in a day while I was still at Saxon hut this morning; there's a woman here in Mackay hut that's hiking it in two days. I need to get out more... The question is, what's happening this summer? When I get back to the US, I expect to start running again. I need to start in more gradually so that I'm not fighting small injuries like I have been the last two years. I want to do the peak from Palm Springs (and return on the bike); a fall or winter marathon, hopefully to qualify for Boston; and the peak traverse from highway 74 to Snow Creek in the spring. Plus plenty of other things. Some ultralight backpacking. The Snow Creek climb. Sierran mountaineering. Some technical slot canyons. What might Kirsten and Juli be interested in?

James Mackay hut.

21 January. Heaphy hut. Day 4 of the Heaphy track.
    A longer day today, twenty-one or twenty-two kilometers in about five hours. The weather is still similar: drizzle and heavy fog. Thankfully, it's not nearly as heavy as the Whirinaki, but still. No or little views. Yesterday and today should have been quite pretty, but I'm reluctant to even get out the camera. It's too slow a process to set everything up, possibly switch lenses, check the polarizer, wait for a break in the wind, make a long exposure... It usually ends up taking about twenty minutes for a photo stop by the time I unpack, try a few different compositions, and repack--far more time than a hand-held 35mm (or smaller) with zoom. I'm unsure if I'll stick with the 645 long-term at this point. I'd forgotten how much of an issue the depth of field was. Pretty much everything requires f16 or f22. I'm tempted to try 6x7 or 6x9 with deliberately less depth of field, maybe with ASA400 film. I wonder what that would be like to work with. I still want to try digital stitched panoramas. And a view camera, too... I'm still disappointed that the photography hasn't really shown up. The adage "bad weather makes good photographs" just hasn't held up this trip.
    I got a late start again this morning, hoping to a break in the drizzle. Left around 10am. Descended about 600m down to sea level and the Lewis hut in about 2.5 hours. Had a short lunch, not drying out completely, before getting back on trail. About another 2.5 hours later along the Heaphy river to the coast and tonight's home. There were three or four swing bridges, slippery in the wet conditions. We were in the bush for most of the descent and for a fair amount of time during the flats. I'm definitely coming to the conclusion that I prefer open space. I don't know how much of it I'll find in New Zealand.
    About a half-hour before coming to the Heaphy hut, I started to hear what sounded like the ocean. In the dense fog, the sounds were muted, but there was the faint but unmistakable sound of breakers in the distance. Shortly thereafter, the smell of salt in the air began to be noticeable, if you were reaching for it. I don't think I've ever done a backpack that finished at the ocean. I've done at least one where we went along the coast, but not one with the ocean for a destination. Psychically, it was very powerful. We'd briefly skirted along the west coast of the North Island on the bus, but I felt like this was my first real introduction to the Tasman. I couldn't have asked for a better one: dense, moody, and brooding. And distant from any normal beaches or towns; there were vast stretches of beach that were just empty. Given the nasty weather that can come off of the Tasman, it felt fitting.

Heaphy hut

21 Jan (later).
    Late dinner. It started to clear up around 7pm, so I pulled the jacket back on, gathered the camera gear, and headed out. Walked down along the sand of the spit separating the the Tasman from the estuarine Heaphy river and confronted another ocean--only the third I've ever seen in my life.
    The breakers were small but still managed to feel ominous under a slate-grey sky with hints of gunmetal blue and grass green. Potent. Untamed. Beautiful. Following the rain and the receding tide, the beach--kilometers and kilometers of it--was bare of footprints, save those from others in the hut. It was a welcome illusion of wilderness, and of wildness. Heavy mist blurred the horizon as the sea and wet sand bled into the sky.

The Tasman Sea.

22 January. Karamea, Rongo Backpacker's.
    Left around 8am, walked down along the Tasman. Moving well. An early wake-up with hutmates talking, cooking, and packing in the full pre-dawn darkness. Bleah. I lingered on numerous beaches. We were finally having some nice weather, so it was easy to explore some photography. The sandflies were starting to come up, though.
    I made it out by 12:30 to meet the 1pm shuttle down to Karamea. There was a 2pm shuttle as well; I should have dawdled more. Drove down to Karamea, hung out, showered, walked into town to buy groceries and had a meal at the cafe. Read an Elmore Leonard.


Sabbatical notes
Other Writings

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