Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Backroads, day 1

Sunday, Feb 26, 2017
Up and out early, dragging our suitcases the 3 or so blocks down the street to hotel George where we meet up with the Backroads group for 8:15am. Besides Jan and I (the only Canadians), are 6 married couples, all American, all in that 60-70-80(?) age group. Our group leaders are Brandon from WA, Dirk from South Africa and Zala from Slovenia, all in their late 20s (?). There are two 12 seat vans with one trailer for luggage to shuttle us for the next 9 days. It's cool-ish, 15C, and it begins to 'mist' as we are getting loaded in and driven to our first stop, about an hour and a half. The scenery starts off quite prairie-like and very flat but we are soon into a more hilly landscape full of huge random rocks.
We pull into a roadside camp area and set off for a short hike, designed to stretch our legs and possibly give the team leaders time to evaluate the capabilities of their charges! It is supposed to be about 3.5 miles with an elevation rise of 800'...doesn't sound too bad if you say it fast! We get a short way and they stop for a break and let everyone introduce themselves and probably catch our breath! We head off again, being encouraged to set our own pace and not worry about what everyone else is doing. Another half hour or so and they offer another option - continue to the top up here with Brandon or take a lower, shorter route back down to the parking lot with Dirk and Zala. Jan quickly opts for the latter and I bravely soldier on. I never realized I was that competitive! Plenty of huffing and puffing later (on my part anyway), we are at the top and it feels great. The way down will be easy (well not really) because it is quite steep but at least I'm not huffing and puffing and I'm not the last one! We get back to the vans, after about  an hour and a half total. We drive a short distance to an outpost lodge that has lunch ready for us. Everyone is quite friendly and we mingle back and forth with small conversations here and there, figuring out who's who, where they are from and what they do. One couple has been married 52 years!
The lunch is really quite good, a little cold buffet and hot pumpkin soup which seems to be a NZ specialty, with lots of healthy options and a few treats too!
We get back in the vans and are brought to our home for the next two nights, Arthur's Pass Wilderness Lodge. Our room is lovely, well-appointed and homey. One little thing, they have a slot at the door for your room key. When you're leaving, grab the key/tag out and everything in the room automatically shuts off! That's brilliant! oh, and in the bathroom, a little novelty item, a heated towel rack (Marnie, take note!)!
Back at the lodge, we have a quick clean up and Greg, our host, is giving a little hike and talk on the local farming, ecology and vegetation. It's our first experience with the sand flies and we are mostly hopping from one foot to another and learning the 'kiwi wave' or swat which is the same the world over, whether it's flies, mosquitoes or midges! Greg is full of tidbits on the New Zealand bird life and how different species (possums, etc) have come in and created many problems for the ground-nesting birds so the farmers have all sorts of traps to try and hold down the pests that are decimating the birds by eating their eggs.
A cocktail reception with another little get-to-know and a brief explanation of what to expect for the next few days. Dinner is two choices, I have a small salmon salad, roast leg of lamb and the chocolate tart for dessert. Perfect. We shared the table with Penny, a geologist, and husband Townes, an engineer, from Houston. They did Kilamanjaro last year and Townes is looking forward to going back in 3 years so he can be the oldest man to do it!
Dinner is over after 9 pm - straight to bed to be up and ready for 8 am departure.
Fitbit, 9.8; MA, 10.5 km...what's happened there?

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