Thursday 6 February 2014

Last Thoughts on Gear and the TAT

You asked for it, so here it is! My thoughts on gear, food etc after completing the Te Araroa Trail.

Gear. I'll break this down by category.

Shelter. While NZ has an awesome backcountry hut network, there are still parts of the TA that require you to carry shelter. I chose a hammock-friendly tarp, and even if not hammocking I would take one. Coupled with a bug net/bivy, they are super light and versatile! In hindsight I would opt for a rectangular tarp for better ground setup options. I bought mine here, and would recommend any of the Zpack cuben fibre shelters...
Stakes- I found aluminium v-stakes were the most versatile and held well in most soil, unlike my shepherds crook stakes.

Sleeping gear. I personally prefer climashield insulation over down. Mostly because of the number of inadvertant spillages in my pack! I chose a Mountain Laurel Designs Spirit quilt
and loved it! I chose a higher temp rating and wore my thermals and if it got too cold, my thermawrap jacket too. 
I used an Exped UL 7 Synmat, which worked pretty well for comfort and insulation on the ground and in my hammock, although I found it a bit sweaty. I wouldn't change it either- packs down small and is relatively light without breaking the bank. I wouldn't bother taking a groundsheet again, even when pissing down I didn't have problems, but I do take care where I pitch my tarp! I still love my Dreamhammock's Darien UL
I usually found places to hang, and on the few occasions where I couldn't, it doubled as a bug net. Sleep is really important to me in terms of better decision making and frame of mind, and I've found a good asymmetric-lay hammock delivers the best sleep out of any alternatives I have tried, bar none! I'm  seriously going to install eyebolts in my bedroom when I finally settle down...

Load bearing. I chose a body pack designed by Aarn Tate, the 65l Featherlight Freedom.
My one weighed around 1.8kg, so is a bit heavy but I didn't notice as it carried weight so comfortably! It is seriously the most comfortable pack I have used over 30 years of tramping. The waterproof liners that come with this pack really work- I had a couple of accidental tests of this. If you are really keen and have cash to spare, I hear Aarn will make you one in Cuben Fibre. My pack is the one in the middle.

I use trekking poles to support my posture and to protect my knees on descents. I would absolutely keep using them, where I needed my hands to scramble up rock faces or steep trails I didn't have any issues with transferring them from hand to hand, or releasing the poles so they dangled from their straps. The flick locks of my Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork poles were miles better than the old twist lock design.
They also double as my shelter poles, and an animal deterrent on a few occasions!

Footwear. Well, it took a while, but I think I finally nailed it! The TA has really varied terrain, so it's difficult to find one shoe/boot to suit all of it. It's also a wet trail generally, with plenty of river crossings or walking in rivers for hours. You might have a number of shoes/boots and post them onward, or like me, try to find a good compromise shoe. My preference is for a non-goretex/WPB membrane shoe, lightweight but with a protective shank and upper, at least around the toe box and lower sides of the shoe. Also, minimal excess padding so they dry out faster!
I liked my Salomon XA 3D Pros but I also like the look of this Salewa product, but have no experience of them yet.
Socks were a real hit-and-miss affair for me, but in the end I settled on a thin and lightweight merino sock made by Smartwool.
They don't stink, dry fairly fast, are cool and breathable. Sweet! I also played around with goretex sock liners, plastic bags, sealskinz etc, but in the end settled on thin woolen socks, with lambs wool booties for hut use and as a treat for my feet...aaaah!

Other clothing. I really, really like merino wool and will stick with a long sleeve zip top in 150gsm weight as soon as I can find a replacement for my old favourite they have discontinued. If anyone knows of a brand comparable to the old Icebreaker long sleeve GT, let me know pretty please! Zipoff pants in fast drying fabric I thought were better than shorts... You have something to put on in towns or when sandflies are driving you mad. My mid layer, a Montbell Thermawrap Pro was great, if a little too warm. I still love my possum merino fingerless gloves, warm when wet and they don't affect dexterity. I wear goretex mittens over the top if it's really cold/wet. I've gone away from a windshirt, preferring to use one jacket for everything- an Arc'teryx paclite shell, with pit zips. I don't care what they say, I still haven't found a fabric that vents well enough to forgo pitzips!
(To my left, the low tech alternative!)

Cooking. I highly rate both my Evernew .75l pasta pot and Trail Designs Ti Tri cooker. Flexibility of fuel types (wood, meths/HEET, or hexemine/solid fuel tablet). I basically just boil water, and this size cup is perfect to rehydrate a dinner with enough hot water left over for a cup of tea. Boiling time is acceptable, it packs down small, is really light and reliable.
The meths burner (a soda can stove design) is the weak link being made of thin aluminium and took a bit of a hammering over time and I think isn't burning optimally anymore. 
(in firewood mode...don't do this when there's a fire ban, obviously)

As a replacement of this one part you could DIY or buy a nifty-looking titanium one

Food. As mentioned earlier, I basically just boil water and add to a ziplock bag of food... For example, couscous/quinoa/instant mashed potatoes. I pre-mix this stuff with dried soup, flavour sachets etc, with dehyd veges from the supermarket. Easy to resupply, cheap and no fuss. I also carried butter, olive oil and pesto for added calories and flavour. I would also add cheese and biltong/salami. Breakfast was muesli or instant oatmeal. Lunch was a wrap or bread stuffed with peanut butter, cheese, salami and Doritos! Snacks ended up being the heaviest component, being dried fruit, nuts and jellybeans. I was in the habit of carrying one extra day of food in each section to deal with weather delays, and soup packets for comfort meals. Oh, and chocolate, lots of it!  I probably carried 700gms of food per day. Water was fairly easy to find in most places, and generally was ok to drink untreated. I used chlorine dioxide tablets maybe twice when the water supply was dodgy. 2l was generally enough throughout the TA, but that depends on your water discipline and I always took heed of trail note warnings of limited supply. I just used a couple of 1l plastic water bottles that come with water in a supermarket.

Other stuff. My firestarter kit includes a swissteel striker, a mini-bic butane lighter, and petroleum jelly-infused cotton wool. As I was walking solo, I carried a PLB (Delorme Inreach) which was useful to also send SMS messages to friends and family outside of cellphone coverage areas (yes, there's lots of those!). A whistle and mirror on my compass were my alternate signalling devices. I carried a ridiculously big knife for no real useful purpose for a while. DOC huts have axes for chopping firewood, and you can usually find twigs for kindling. I wouldn't bother with a full tang knife next time- just a wee folder or Swiss Army knife would be sufficient for me I think! My smartphone was brilliant at doing multiple tasks- comms, digital compass and GPS, mapping, music, ereader, trail notes and first aid information, fauna and flora information, campground info, camera and blogging tool. Occasionally I got caught out with low battery issues, but if I was careful my solar charger was sufficient.

Recovery. It's taken me the better part of two weeks for my body to recover, using light exercise, lots of rest, massage, extra magnesium and Epsom salt baths. When I found some non-hiking clothing to wear from storage, shoes were too tight and trousers too loose! So that leads to reintegrating back into 'normal' life. I figure that with a little help, this should go smoothly. So, for the next month:

1. I need five people I've never met to turn up at random at night and sleep, eat and lounge in the same room as me. Preferably two of you will have sleeping disorders/snore like a dying boar. At least two will need to be German or willing to put on an accent. But don't mention ze war.

2. All food will be dehydrated, except chocolate and maybe water. Speaking of which, I will only be allowed water if it has floaty things in it.

3. Except for 1. Above, people will need to be routed around me so I have solitude during the day, for weeks on end. I also need someone with a robin/kea/kaka/fantail sock puppet to follow me around so I have something to interact with or I will go crazy.

4. I will need to be soaked through at least once a day, and made to stand in a paddling pool to simulate river crossings. Maybe the fire service can help out here?

5. I will only be allowed two pairs of underwear and socks, and only one of anything else, which must be hand washed except for once a week, where I can use a washing machine, but only if I donate 6x $2 coins each time to charity. Also, I need a random person to steal one item of clothing if I use a machine.

So, if I'm completely honest, the transition back to normal life was/is harder than I expected. I suppose solitude and very clear, simple goals every day was a complete break from my current existence! Luckily my work has very good psych support which I will use... A longwinded way of saying if you need help, ask for it! :-)

I've had a ball. It's sad to stop walking- I almost did a Forrest Gump and turned around to walk back the way I'd come. Te Araroa was an awesome experience, one I'd gladly do again. So, if you haven't already, get out there! 
See you on the trail sometime. Kiwiscout. 

Tuesday 21 January 2014

Days 129-134: The End...Or a Beginning?

Day 129. So a second zero day, and as usual my feet have swollen to blimp-like proportions. Phil (who runs river guided tours): Hey Patrick, wanna drive our truck while we hang glide? Me: yeah!
(Phil and Derek check out the launch site)

(Derek points out an alternate landing area)

(Phil goes for it!)

(Derek follows...)

I really enjoyed the conversation, prep work and seeing how it comes together- another expensive hobby to get into? Maybe...

Last night at the backpackers, I asked for some help to lighten my 3L wine cask, happily a few accepted. Watched the moon come up in all it's splendiforisness and I misidentified a bunch of stars...

Day 130. I said my goodbyes to the gang at Blue Moon backpackers- Shane had to tell me about his biodiesel project before I left though, and even did a 'show and tell' complete with fuel samples. A bit of a character, is our Shane! The weather finally turned as I hit the road, so a nice cooling wind as I left Havelock! It was a nice walk to Anakiwa, despite being a road verge for most of it.

If you time it right, the coffee cart in Anakiwa will be open (1.30pm), and while waiting here I ran into Jin who is a SOBO TA hiker, a keen photographer carrying 7 kg of camera gear on top of the usual! So, having decided to savour my last section, I planned four easy days on the track. Davies Bay campsite was just up the road from Anakiwa, and I shared it with just one couple, Kiwis Kyle and Chloe. Hats off to them- they have courageously decided to move islands and head to Queenstown to make a new start. Love it!

I rigged my hammock and tarp in anticipation of a big blow. But nothing came of it...

Day 131. This track is a pleasantly easy walk! Lovin' the heck out of it. I've been fortunate to meet a number of SOBO TA and other hikers, and I'm starting to feel like a minor celebrity- kinda like the 'spray, and walk away!' guy. Except less well known. And unpaid.
Met the Honeymoon hikers, Gnu from Japan, Till and Sarah, and Izzy from Germany. Great to meet you guys!

(Black Rock Campsite)

Black Rock is a small campsite, and I thought I might have it to myself until Stefan from Denmark and Paul from Germany turned up. Nice to chat about hammocks, gear and photography. Stefan is dabbling with hammock camping so that was interesting to see, while Paul is doing 'the usual' Germanic gap year thing. Good on him for choosing NZ!
(Views of Picton from Black Rock)
(Paul and Stefan working the cameras)

Day 132. Another magic day's walking. I met a number of SOBO TA trampers today- Gerald and James...

And then Tom and Nic, Monkey and Zippy! Awesome to met and chat with you- happy trails!

The usual obligatory gorgeous scenery followed.

On the way I bumped into Ashley and Lucas whom I met at Blue Moon backpackers in Havelock, and had lunch while trying to keep off a very cheeky weka.

I arrived at Camp Bay and met a bunch of really awesome people, including DOC hosts Julien and Yasmina from France, and Liedeke from the US. We enjoyed the glow worms and a full moon across the Sound.

Oh, and possums. Lots of them!

Day 133. Feeling a bit subdued today. It was very nice to share a campsite with some very cool travellers, but I know it is my last night on the trail. I had to drop in on Furneaux lodge for lunch, and to pick up some champers to celebrate tonight...

So, I arrived at Schoolhouse Bay for my last night on the trail. Somehow, I knew I would have the campsite to myself!

A couple kayaking did drop in briefly, took pity on this poor hungry through hiker and gifted me with some fresh food! 

This almost made up for the champers exploding in my pack... I rescued a cupful to toast with, and enjoyed champagne-scented sleeping gear for the night.

Day 134. Last day! The walk over the small hill to Ship Cove only took an hour, so I had an hour of quiet contemplation before the ferry arrived. 

From the water taxi to the interislander ferry, it all went smoothly. I did a celebratory leap off the wharf, so checked in soaking wet and squelching. Tip: there's a boaties shower available for $2 next to the interislander terminal!
I met some new friends on the interislander, including these two young fellas, and Ayla who is moving with her BF to Wellington. Good luck! And this band, the Shot Band played some great folk music. 

And it wasn't long before we were gliding in to Wellington harbour, and seeing family! 

(My favourite girls- daughter Hazel and niece Nieve)

I'll leave the deep questions etc to another post, but suffice to say I've loved this through hike and perhaps another calls :-)

A big thank you to my family and friends who have supported me throughout, from parents arrived unexpectedly on the trail with champagne, or putting up with all those parcels, overseas friends who rallied the troops, visited me while walking, sent me food and other wonderful gifts, sent me daily texts (the delightful 'Te Araroa Tip of the Day' from Scotty and Adi), and contributed in many other ways. A special thanks to everyone who donated money to Shine, you are all heroes in my book! If you haven't yet, but want to, go here:

To the Te Araroa Trust, thank you for making this possible for us! Good luck to everyone still walking.
Cheers and all the best, Pat/Kiwiscout