Tired I drag one foot up a step and then another. My breath sounds loud. Panting, I gulp trying to ingest more air. I lift a foot again, willing myself to move forward. I can hear the “huh-huh-huh” of the person coming up behind me. I inch over to the side. There isn’t much room to squeeze past me, but we are all used to the ritual by now: stand sideways, try not to sway to much, hold the tummy in, shuffle past without knocking the other person off. Human dominos weaving a long trail through the New Zealand brush.
Our first hike, or as they say here “tramp” is the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. This is not a hike for the out of shape or faint hearted. It is also our first encounter with the Kiwi’s love of stairs. It is a challenging climb between two of the parks three volcanoes. One of which erupted recently in 2012. Mt. Ngauruhoe, also known as Mt. Doom in Lord of the Rings, is what called us, and probably the other hundreds of people before and after us.
There were lots of warnings about the trail. The visitor center posted news clippings of rescues on the mountain and what to do in case of a volcanic eruption, get out of the valleys. The weather forecast hinted at rain in the morning, and yet here we were re-enacting Frodo and Sam’s journey up Mt. Doom. Weighted by a pack filled with food, water, and extra clothes, Kevin felt as though he was carrying the precious ring.
My Fit-bit recorded 360 flights of stairs, but they seemed endless. Every time we thought there couldn’t possibly more, there ‘d be more and then more and more. Usually flanked by a steep ravine on either side. It didn’t rain, “hallelujah” , but fog created an eerie blanket over the landscape, hiding how frighteningly close we were to the edge at times.
Sulfur fills the air as we pass steam vents and crater lakes. Inside the rim of the craters we feel like we are walking on the moon.
The descent isn’t any easier. The slopes are gravelly. Everyone is slipping, holding onto rocks, trying not to fall. And then, there’d be more stairs. We zigged and zagged our way back to the van. It was a tiring 7 hours of so, but here’s the crazy part, we decided to walk some more that day. We got in 26.2 miles, so we could check off Oceania on our list of a marathon distance walked on every continent. We slept well.
The thing about reaching goals is i often don t feel this great moment of elation. It’s like climbing a flight of stairs and knowing there is another staircase to go up. It’s those moments when you stop to catch a breather and look at the view around you when you feel the awe of where you’ve come from, where you are, and where you’re going to.
It’s the places you see.
The friends you make.
Your experiences along the way.