Adventure Time – August 2016 Update

My last update was 6 months ago.

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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.

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.

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McLean Falls in the Catlins

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.

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.

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.

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.

And I’m leaving in a month. Because of course I am.

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.

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Depression and The Solo Traveler

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.

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This is not a very happy post, so here’s a preemptive Kea

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.

It's literally impossible to feel depressed looking at this view. Scientifically proven.
It’s literally impossible to feel depressed looking at this view. Scientifically proven.

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.

PLEASE READ:

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.”

~Elizabeth Taylor

Wanaka Life

Quick update from my busy footprints:

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):DSC_0275

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And one of the most popular hikes to Roy’s Peak, which is the easiest strenuous walk I’ve ever done:

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Probably our favorite find is the riverside climbing area, which has climbing and a little swimming hole:

 

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In a little over a week, we’ll be heading off again to explore the South Island. Look for way more updates to come =]

I Stopped Washing My Hair. Like The Dirty Hippy I Am.

photo(3)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.