I moved to Washington almost exactly eight months ago. With my Jeep packed, nowhere to live, and no connections in the state, I took a road trip from Denver to Seattle, stopping to explore Grand Teton, Yellowstone, and Glacier National Parks along the way. I arrived in the mountains a few hours ahead of my first lecture for the National Ski Patrol’s Outdoor Emergency Care course, which would prepare me to join the ranks of the NSP in December.
The course culminated in a weekend of final exams in November and I started work on December 6th, opening day. A month now after the my last day of the season, I can say that most days on the hill were strenuous and stressful, I went to bed each night after 14 hours exhausted, and I wouldn’t have traded it for anything.
Since my first job in the service industry at 14, I have never held a position that I could claim to fully love. I have had experiences that range from pleasant to horrendous to downright absurd, but nothing that made me believe it was my future. Coming into patrol, I kept expectations low, hoping to find the days bearable, not daring to imagine any better.
I am happy to report that I seriously underestimated how enjoyable the job would be. The people are an odd group, ranging in age from early twenties all the way up to mid seventies, with a lot of firefighters, EMTs, and paramedics, though some are students or even retired from decades in an entirely different profession. The work is always changing, dependent on how generous Jack Frost was feeling, as well as how many people out-skiied their abilities that day. With no set routine, the only constant on patrol is clearing the slopes in the morning and sweeping them at night.
During peak season I worked two 64-hour weeks back to back. I have begrudgingly endured a similar schedule in the past, but this time I still wanted to be there at the end of the chaos.
You can bet I’ll be back on snow next season, beating myself up trying to shovel 5′ of snow off of a tower pad, or asking a guest why he thinks his foot is broken as he strolls over without even a wince. After all, it’s a tough job getting first tracks every day, but someone’s gotta do it.
Since working in Wanaka while living in a van down by the river, quite a lot has happened and I have been all over the place. I’ll hit the highlights here and write detailed posts on the most notable experiences in the future.
Mike and I were in Wanaka until February 8th. After an adventure in Aspiring National Park, I put in my two weeks at each of my jobs and we booked it south to the overwhelming intensity of Milford Sound.
After a couple miserable days with a bout of food poisoning there, we felt the trip needed a bit of a kickstart on the adventure front, so we headed to one of the only multi-day backpacking trips in the Fiordland that won’t cost you $200, called the South Coast Track. With a rocky start and three massively rainy days out of six, it was a rough experience to say the least.
The furthest hut out, sandflies EVERYWHERE
Rain, rain, go away…
Continuing east, we traveled through The Catlins at the very bottom of the South Island, where there are a lot of easy-access waterfalls and a distinct lack of gas stations. We discovered this the hard way when the only hope we had was closed and Tia Rose sputtered to a stop about halfway to the next available option. Luckily, some nice farmers noticed our plight later that night and gave us 5 liters of gas and a place to park for the night.
We filled up and started north toward Dunedin, checking out the Moeraki Boulders along the way. After a couple days in Dunedin, we decided that our post-New Zealand destination should be Bali. We booked our flights in the Dunedin library for March 20th, leaving us about a month left to adventure.
The time before we left for Bali saw us complete a figure 8 across the South Island. We took off from Dunedin, crossed through Wanaka just to restock, and stopped in Fox Glacier for a few days. The first two days were rainy, but we lucked out and had enough clear days to hike to Welcome Flat hot springs.
Sunset over the Southern Alps
Fox Glacier! A lot dirtier than you’d expect
From there, we drove north up the west coast, I developed another unfortunate round of food poisoning in Oamaru, where we met up with Mike’s friend and fellow traveler, then booked it to Nelson for a couple relaxing days.
She went off to Christchurch and we headed back south toward Kahurangi National Park, where we attempted Mt. Owen and hiked to the Thousand Acre Plateau. The beauty of being two days from the nearest farm is hard to describe. We didn’t run into a single soul on the way to the Thousand Acre Plateau.
Looking toward the summit of Mt Owens
Hiking the ridge of The Haystack above the 1000 Acre Plateau
Finally, we boarded our first flight to Bali, where we spent our first and last few days in Kuta (tourist central), explored Ubud with its monkey forest, saw two traditional dance performances, went scuba diving in Tulamben, snorkeled and drank way too much on Gili Trawangan, and met so many amazing people along the way. One reason we met more people in Bali than New Zealand was the cheap food and beer. We were even able to stay in some pretty nice hotels for just $10 each per night. Though the financial situation was amazing, the heat really was not my jam, and at the end of our 4 weeks there, I was ready to go.
Damned monkey stole my water
My favorite experience in Bali
Mike and I parted ways, he to commercial fishing in Alaska, and I back to New Zealand in the hopes of finding a job. It was a wild four months of traveling together, but it was time to go off in our own directions again.
Once in New Zealand, I went hard on the job search in Christchurch and Wanaka. Although winter was right around the corner (mid-June and it was mid-April), I didn’t have the finances to live two months without a form of income. So I sent out application after application in the hopes of finding anything that could keep me there. Sadly, it was the low season, and the only position I found that had potential didn’t pan out.
Three weeks in, I made the call to put my van up for sale and find adventure back in the U.S. A week later I was on a 31 hour flight from Christchurch to Columbus, completely exhausted, and ready to be in a stable environment for a bit.
My incredibly supportive parents took me in for two months while I worked to save money (in Ohio, with no mountains). After a week in Maine for the 4th of July where we sent my grandma Shirley’s ashes out to sea, I drove out to Colorado with the best road trip buddy (my mom), and that’s where I’ve been since, climbing, hiking and mountain biking through life. Still feels like home.
Saying goodbye to Grandma Shirley
Celebrating Grandma’s life and Dan’s bachelor party with my awesome family
And I’m leaving in a month. Because of course I am.
From the summit of Mt. Bierstadt
Oh also I got a tattoo
Me and the momma at Red Rocks for TOP
I can’t stay still for the life of me, so I’m taking a road trip to the Pacific Northwest the first week of September, where I’m enrolled in the National Ski Patrol’s Outdoor Emergency Care course and hired on to be a ski instructor in Washington this winter. Anyone who knows me will understand how huge this is. I have been skiing since I was two and snowboarding since I was 10. My hope is to gain experience this winter and, if I can swing it, fly down to the southern hemisphere in late spring to patrol for the 2017 winter season there.
It’s hard to believe how much has happened in just the last six months. It’s good to look back on days like today when I’m working ten hours. Anyway, thanks for reading if you got this far, I’ll be sure to keep these footprints wandering.
Traveling solo comes with a lot of upsides. There’s the freedom of doing exactly what you want at any time, the ease of finding a place to crash since one body takes up very little space, and, in the case of van travel, the fact that you have the whole bed to yourself, which is significantly more comfortable than sharing in such a cramped space.
I’ve seen about 7.2 million articles and blog posts praising and encouraging the solo wanderer, and I absolutely agree that it’s something every traveler should at least try, but I’m not here to talk about the positives of going through the world alone. Not today, because I have been stuck on expelling this dark, sticky, ugly part of traveling from my head and into words since about three months into my time in New Zealand – and the way this nastiness affected my life has been a big reason that I haven’t been able to write about anything with grace or flow since my last post.
Depression as a solo traveler is rarely blogged about (and you certainly won’t see it on Instagram or Facebook), but I know it exists, because for the last 12 months living a transient lifestyle, it has been my only constant companion.
There’s nothing pretty or inspiring about depression – for every day I spent in some of the most beautiful places in the world, I had two or three days of struggling to convince myself to do something as basic and fundamental as getting up to brush my teeth.
Those aren’t the days that you want to show. Those aren’t the days that make you feel like you’re really taking life by the balls. But with depression, they are inevitable.
During the worst times, the only thing I consumed in a day was a(n entire) bottle of wine (or box wine aka goon – $20 for the equivalent of 4 bottles, thanks New Zealand!), and as much Netflix as I could afford to watch on the extremely expensive campground wifi. I would view my situation from the outside and wonder how it was that I could be living such a crazy awesome adventure, and still not find the motivation to get out of my nest of a van. That’s the thing about depression, it doesn’t make a lick of sense, even to those in itss terrible, terrible embrace.
Luckily, the worst times were few and far between, but even when depression eases up, or amazingly takes a break long enough to go on a three day hike and enjoy every minute of it, there’s that niggling knowledge that it’s always just there, looming over my shoulder, searching for a weak moment to extort and exacerbate.
BUT (yay there’s a but)
I never for a minute let the fact that I was dealing with this clingy, incessant shadow convince me that it wasn’t worth continuing to try. Sure, when it’s day 3 of feeling worthless, of not showering or even leaving the van except to pee, and I’ve read two entire books that weren’t even particularly good, it might feel like it would be easier to just sell the van and buy a ticket home. But then what? I’m not saying that isn’t the right move for some people, especially if you are feeling suicidal or are a legitimate danger to yourself, but for me, I wasn’t at that point, I couldn’t let the depression win, and I definitely didn’t believe going home would affect its omnipresence.
So I analyzed my situation time and again, working toward bringing myself back to feeling unburdened, pushing away the heaviness that enveloped my limbs and mind, and coming back to myself again. At this point, after years of just dealing until it resolves itself, I’ve discovered a decent strategy to expedite my recovery process. Not sure if it can help anybody else, but I hope someone else will find it useful.
I allow myself to feel/be depressed
Instead of being frustrated or ashamed that I feel awful and useless, which was my reaction for a very long time, I’ve learned that I have to accept it, let it happen, and do my best to care for myself emotionally. There’s nothing more counterproductive than getting upset that I’m upset.
Like yeah that makes sense, just send yourself into a shame spiral, Kayleigh. That should fix everything.
I set a time limit
This can be difficult, because if I don’t stick to my planned “depression allowance,” I still have to follow rule number 1. But, I found that if I allow for 2-3 days (depending on depth of depression, weather, life circumstances, etc) of not forcing myself to do anything at all, it’s almost like I can recover the emotional strength it takes to begin pushing the shadow away.
I look for inspiration, and plan something I love
Particularly aimed at travelers or people who live in more outdoorsy places, there’s nothing better for my state of mind than getting outdoors in an active way, such as exploring someplace beautiful, going climbing, or running along the ocean. At some point during my self-allowed hiatus from life, I look to adventure sites or Instagrams to find someplace to go for an activity that I know regularly gets me out of my head and into the world again. Anything that has successfully beaten back that dickbag depression in the past is fair game. I mark it mentally and use it as an option when he’s setting up camp again. Just the thought of a trip or activity on the horizon is sometimes enough to get my determination back.
(My favorite go to adventures are climbing, hiking, snowboarding, mountain biking, and running.)
I follow through, even if I have to push plans back
Easily the most difficult part of my strategy, it’s also the most crucial. Getting out and actually following through on the hike, or climbing trip, or whatever else, is about 75% of the battle. Not easy, because the longer I am a blob of hopelessness, the less willpower I have to move my body, but after even just an hour into my chosen activity, everything begins to make sense again, and I can feel life returning in a wildly refreshing way.
I’m currently in an upswing – riding a pretty awesome wave of happiness after three weeks in Colorado, which has made it easier to write about my experience in a more detached, objective way. I’d like to continue writing, even if I’m the only one who reads it, so I’ll post an update on my life and what my next move is (because I’m not done traveling) later this week.
Nothing I’ve said here should be considered a 100% cure for depression, and I’m definitely not saying that anything I’m doing should replace an anti-depressant or therapy (though I am not utilizing either at this time). I just want to share my experience with people so they know that it is possible to have enjoyment and feel like you’re living your life while battling depression.
If you are experiencing depression, anxiety, self harm, eating issues, or anything else, and need someone to talk to, please feel free to message me. I AM NOT A PROFESSIONAL (clearly), and I urge you to talk to one for definitive help, but I understand that even just having someone who cares and will listen is extremely comforting and helpful.
“You just do it. You force yourself to get up. You force yourself to put one foot before the other, and God damn it, you refuse to let it get to you. You fight. You cry. You curse. Then you go about the business of living. That’s how I’ve done it. There’s no other way.”
After three months in New Zealand, I landed on the South Island in a town called Wanaka. Possibly the most perfect town I’ve ever seen, it sits in a valley at the base of a long, winding lake, surrounded by days and days of mountains. Unlike in the North Island, I managed to snag three jobs within a week of arriving.
So I’ve been busy.
I’m working as a lowly dishwasher for a lakeside resort, kitchen hand for a chill airport café, and wait staff for an upscale catering company. With only a few days off in six weeks, it’s been exhausting, but worth it for replenishing my dusty bank account.
Still, I’ve taken complete advantage of my afternoons and days of freedom. Which leads to some exciting news – I’ve been joined by another set of footprints! A fellow wanderer, I met Mike in Maine, and for some reason he’s willing to share my tiny little space in New Zealand. Whenever I find free time, we’ve been hiking, climbing, swimming, and otherwise exploring. Life could be worse.
Waterfall adventure we went on by Treble Cone to the Twin Waterfalls (Second waterfall was around the corner on private land):
And one of the most popular hikes to Roy’s Peak, which is the easiest strenuous walk I’ve ever done:
Probably our favorite find is the riverside climbing area, which has climbing and a little swimming hole:
In a little over a week, we’ll be heading off again to explore the South Island. Look for way more updates to come =]
After the loss of my home of 5 weeks, I was stuck in limbo. Between finding another van, selling Grandpa Jimmy, searching for a short term job, and finally working said job (apple thinning), I was craving a hike and sorely out of shape. I left the orchard as soon as I had gas money in my bank account and headed for the Kaimai-Mamatu range for some socially acceptable torture. (Also known as hiking up a freaking mountain).
Two hours of crossing and re-crossing the Waitengue stream and 45 minutes of practically crawling uphill later, I stopped mid-labored breathing and was filled with aw at the sheer power of what I soon discovered was a 106 meter high waterfall in the middle of pure wilderness.
With the feelings of elation and beauty brought forth from this liquid column fresh in my heart, I began my search for all the waterfalls in the North Island.
I had time for 4.
My first stop after Ananui was another, taller fall in the same mountain range: The Wairere Falls.
The hike to this massive 156 meter waterfall was much shorter (45 minutes) and therefore, had significantly higher traffic and nicer walkways. I felt spoiled from my solo wilderness adventure as a I lined up with all the schmucks who came to such a developed, touristy waterfall. Naturally I didn’t consider myself a schmuck, as I was so clearly enlightened.
But then, maybe there’s a reason it’s so popular. Not only was the viewpoint spectacular, the falls perfectly draped themselves to look as wild and stunning as possible, with the wind blowing smaller sections into a veil across the cliffs.
I could get used to waterfall hunting.
Ah the ol’ Bridal Veil Falls. I’m pretty sure there are at least 20 of these in the US alone.* I much prefer the Maori name for it, Waireinga, which means “leaping waters,” and is far more accurate a description.
*Possibly an exaggeration
I would hardly consider getting to this water faucet a hike. To reach the base of the falls (55 meters below) takes less than ten minutes, and marching/struggling your way back up the stairs shouldn’t take much longer. The really fascinating thing about this waterfall, and what makes it unique, is the way the cliff and rocks that surround it are formed. According to the DoC (Department of Conservation) brochure:
The spectacular cliff face of Waireinga was created some
2.5 million years ago when molten lava from a volcanic
eruption flowed down a river course, pooling in a valley.
As the lava slowed, the top and bottom started to cool and
shrink. Cracks and joints appeared, running directly down
from the surface of the flow. Because the hotter and semi-
liquid part of the lava was still moving, the joints developed
a distinctive curve.
The final waterfall in my North Island excursion was Bells Falls in Egmont National Park. I consider this a bonus fall, because I had planned to hike the 2-3 day Pouakai Circuit, and there just happened to be a side trip to another cliffriver (I’ve renamed waterfalls to sound as intense as they really are).
The DoC brochure informed me that the track to the falls is 30 minutes one way. What it neglected to say is that the entire 30 minutes is spent going downhill.
Since I had already spent a little over 2 hours in intensely steep and rocky travel before arriving at my little side adventure, I was not excited to discover that the path just. kept. descending.
When I finally reached the bottom, this was the pathetic site that greeted me:
Well now here was a dilemma. I had traveled all this way and made so much extra work for myself, there’s no way I was accepting this as my view of Bells Falls. So I did what any self-respecting cliffriver enthusiast would and set off determinedly up the rocky terrain, sans pack.
Many slippery boulders and several body-contortioning moves later, I was all up in that waterfall.
But not literally, because that water comes down frighteningly hard.
Tragedy struck this traveler last week when, quickly and completely, Grandpa Jimmy emitted his last sputter and rolled to a stop going uphill on my way to the Kaimai Mamaku Forest. If I had been more savvy to the rattling that had started mere minutes before, maybe I could have saved him, but I wasn’t, and I didn’t.
The past week has been a blur of stress and decision-making. My first options were immediately: a) fly home (pfft nope) b) switch out the engine for a used one c) make my way by foot or d) find a new van with what was left of my meager savings.
After the news that a new engine would be several thousand dollars and would likely still cause problems in the future, plus some serious soul searching on how I wanted the rest of my year here to go, I decided to start the search for a new home and livelihood. The universe did not disappoint.
I’d like everyone to meet Tia Rose, the bright savior of my NZ life.
She’s had a number of parts recently replaced and passed her wof (warrant of fitness – required in NZ) with flying colors. She’s a 1993 Toyota Estima Emina, and is supposed to run forever. On top of that, she came with some beat up but usable toys including a kayak, surf board, and bike/bike rack! Not a bad package. Plus golem is holding a kiwi, where else are you gonna see that?
Anyway, I’m currently looking for a job and hoping that the set backs in my trip have all happened up front and it will be smooth sailing from here!
I haven’t washed my hair since the day I boarded AirNZ for my 13 hour flight across the Pacific. I’d heard there was something called the “No-Poo” movement – which, frankly, sounds like some MRA plot to convince women not to poop – but I’d always been too ensconced in society and not looking like a grease ball to give it a shot. Traveling alone, in a van, in a country where literally nobody knew who I was, seemed like the perfect time to get rid of all my fucks. And I don’t think they’re coming back.
When I first started out, I knew I’d be okay for at least a few days. I’ve gone that long without washing my hair before and it’s never been a serious issue. Of course, I continued to shower, and rinsed my hair during said showers, but that was pretty much the extent of it.
By around the end of week one, it was looking a bit sketchy. I Skyped a friend back in Colorado and he looked at me, confused, and said I looked wet. Attractive.
But I’d done my research and everything I saw claimed that if you can get through the first month or so, your body will adapt and the grease will calm down. While I was waiting for that glorious moment, I decided to see what other people suggested to keep me from dressing in cuffed jeans and a white t-shirt and finding the nearest sock hop (cus…Grease? Maybe would work better if I were a man). I found several options that included some combination of baking soda and apple cider vinegar. That seemed like too much work.
I kept up the search and found a remedy that was convenient enough I was willing to give it a shot. Apparently honey is good for cutting grime, and I just so happened to have some on hand, because bees are God’s way of making up for wasps. So I awkwardly took my bottle of honey to the pay-to-play shower and rubbed what seemed like a healthy amount onto my head, washed it out and enjoyed what remained of my rare hot shower.
It definitely seemed a little better, so I waited a few days and washed my hair with honey once again. Still decent but not great. I continued on with my life, mostly hiking and swimming and surfing, so it was easy to forget about the condition of my hair. Didn’t really notice anything again until about a week ago while I was in Auckland. The reason I noticed my hair again was actually because there wasn’t anything noteworthy about it at all. It looked clean and soft and pretty much exactly how my hair had looked when I was still shampoo washing it. This was at approximately two weeks in and you better believe I was stoked. I even wore my hair down on Friday night and looked like a fairly normal person. My hair was actually curlier than it has been recently, which made me super happy.
If everything goes to hell in the forthcoming months, I’ll let you know, but for now I think this is a win for lazy, cheap hair washers everywhere.
Nine days anywhere isn’t nearly enough time to discover everything about a place. You CAN discover a hell of a lot about yourself though.
After three days in Auckland, I had made four new friends, bought a campervan by the name of Grandpa Jimmy, and decided the first direction I needed to travel was north. Beyond that, my days stretched before me, filled only with possibility. I had no set plans, nowhere to be, and only my map and some basic googling to guide me. If I thought about it too much, I may have booked a flight back before I’d even made it out of Auckland.
I tried to keep the thinking to a minimum.
Instead, I took out my map -which I inherited along with Grandpa Jimmy, and which was filled with notes from previous users on interesting places, cheap campsites, and the best Kiwi-spotting trails – and picked a town with a beach as my first destination. That random town, called Orewa, marked the start of my real journey through New Zealand.
Over the next week, I kept driving north, turning onto roads with signs such as “Glowworm Caves” or the understated “Beach” as I went. I met a native Kiwi in Whangarei who had just returned from two years as a mountain guide in Norway, hiked the Whangarei Heads, learned how to say “love” in Maori (Aroha), and spotted a blur of a Kiwi on an island by Kerikeri. I kayaked across an inlet to hike the Houhora Heads, found the most perfect seashells I’ve ever seen, and saw the sun rise over Cape Reinga.
Alongside all those amazing experiences, came discovering the pitfalls of the unplanned. I took way too many wrong turns, caught myself driving on the terrifying (right is wrong) side of the road, accidentally bushwhacked my way up a mountain, and completely shredded my front left tire. Currently, I’m sitting inside a beautiful public library, having finally found free wifi, and I can seriously say that even the most – normally – stressful experiences have been enjoyable.
I said 9 days is enough to discover a lot about yourself. So after this crazy week, what have I discovered?
I discovered that my patience can last far longer than I expected. I’ve learned how to entertain myself for hours, or struggle through public transportation with a comically large backpack, or even survive without cell service (I think that will always be my least favorite).
I discovered joy in facing fears – by pushing myself to conquer steep scrambling, utterly destroying night hikes (I’ve always been terrified of the dark), and taking on the horrifying task of talking to strangers.
Most importantly though, I discovered how much I can trust myself – to find my way, be alone, and ask for help when I need it.
There’s something about having nowhere to be that brings life into focus.