We’re so old…

**Disclaimer: A lot of you reading this are about to tell us to shut up and/or go to hell…

4 days in a backpackers hostel with 19 year olds German kids will make you feel old… We are so old. New Zealand is filled with Europeans, mainly German, taking their “gap year” which is a year of holiday and world traveling between high school and university. That also translates to blowing your cash when you get to Auckland on going out partying…

So there we sat one night in our 12 person shared bunk room realizing that we are the old people in this crowd and this is what we came up with:

  • I’m basically the only guy with a beard because I am basically the only one old enough to grow one.
  • They cook ramen in the communal kitchen and buy cases of shit beer, we bought lamb and drank a single craft beer.
  • We’ve been “hooking up” longer than half the kids in our bunk room have been in puberty.
  • The start partying at midnight, we’re asleep by 1030.
  • They buy extra Internet and spend the days in the common room on their laptops, we actually left the hostel but don’t know how to use an iPad.
  • Priorities include buying a car and getting a local cell phone. I bought my first car around the time they bought their first bike and paying car insurance sucks!
  • But worst of all… I actually wanted to get a book and read last night.

Stupid kids…

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Auckland, New Zealand. The first few days.

New Zealand! 18 months ago; a wild dream. A year ago; a distant possibility. Six months ago; a legitimate trip. Two days ago; a one way ticket from Los Angeles Airport. We made it across the world, across the equator and onto the volcanic rock the size of Colorado that we will call home for the next four months. Our first couple days, the topic of this post, were spent in a downtown Auckland hostel fighting jet lag and the joys of a 12 person dorm filled with 18 year old German kids (a post lamenting about our old age and time at the hostel is in the days to come).

So once we finally made it to Auckland after about 22 hours of time in an airplane what did we do? Besides sleep you mean? We had a hostel booked for three nights in walking distance to the downtown and we tried to see as much of the city that we could for free. Our first full day led us to buying breakfast groceries from an Indian man named “Eddy” who upon learning we had a friend from Assam gave us a killer deal on our eggs and veg and even hooked us up with a cheap Indian mean from the joint next door that night!

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A view of downtown from the highest point in the city, Mt Eden

After a breakfast from Eddy’s Market, we spent day 2 in NZ seeing the downtown, including Lindsay indulging my man crush on sail boats. We also tried to do much of the tourist stuff in the city center like the fish market and the wharf area. The highlight of the day definitely being all of the sailboats, which WILL be my midlife crisis. I just need to learn how to drive one!

Day 3 turned into a bit more of an adventure than we bargained for. A 15km(ish) trail went from one side of the Auckland isthmus to the other, taking a traveler through many of the city’s famous parks. Getting a late start as we normally do, we left the hostel at a bright and early 1030am and not long thereafter I lost the map out of my back pocket and we were on our own. Not to fear, we had a general idea of where to go and a 1.3mil person city couldn’t be THAT big. After getting lost only a few times we connected back to the trail which led through historic districts, national monuments and even a sheep farm. Being good little tourists we took pictures of this for all you nice people to see.

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A sheep farm in the middle of the downtown parks… this place is awesome!

An early morning by any standards, 530am wake up and we were out the door on day 4, headed to the bus stop and our wwoofing gig at the Packtrack farm. (Follow the blog for that update!)

Leg 3 – Regina to Andover

Our final leg of the Journey should be properly referred to as the Suicide Run to New England. This put any Kenai fishing one-night run to shame. We left Regina the Monday after the wedding at about 1pm, only 7 hours later than we planned on leaving… not bad by our standards. We can honestly say that the car did not stop for anything besides food/fuel until we hit central Vermont. That’s 2,000+ miles! Lindsay and I traded driving duties back and forth, taking anywhere between a 4hr shift and an 8hr shift. These shifts were relatively uneventful until Lindsay’s 430am turn somewhere between Minneapolis and Chicago… in her own defense, she had just awakened from sleeping, it was dark and the “raccoon” that she ran over was on the far side of a little roller on the interstate. With that being said, I had just fallen asleep when the car hit something, hard, and I sat straight up convinced we had just gotten blown up. As my adrenaline and heart rate came down she tried to convince me that we had hit a raccoon but after a little bit of disbelief and realizing that it would’ve been the world’s biggest raccoon she admitted that we smoked a road killed deer’s rib cage section. Yep, this stuff really happens.

After a brief visit in Chicago with Mr Reeses, Dustin Gray, we headed into our second night of driving taking us from the Michigan-Canadian border to Montreal. We made it to Montreal when the sun came up and after some bickering over fuel stops and aggressive bickering over driving through Montreal we made it to our final border crossing. Hooray! Our first actual stop was at a truck stop in northern Vermont for a quick shower and then a morning in Burlington for breakfast/lunch/people watching. We spent that night with my adopted Vermont family from college in Rutland and then headed south to Rhode Island the next day. Couch surfing our way through New England we spent the following day eating pears off the tree and watching Hunter try to fight a pair of Scottish Highland Cows (it didn’t turn out well for him… now he has TBI too) at my senior project advisor and friend’s house.

One badass boat crew!
One badass boat crew!

The final stop on our travels brought us to beautiful Whitefield, Maine and my cousins’ to have a weekend of drinking, rafting and drinking. After a partially hung over drive to the Kennebec River we had one of the best days of our trip, hitting big water and drinking 99 cent Natty Ice tall boys on the float out with a decent boat crew. I mean, they weren’t the worst at least… not sure about the guide though.

The best paddlers on the river... after a couple Natty Ice's.
The best paddlers on the river… after a couple Natty Ice’s.

After watching the Patriots beat Atlanta and going down the YouTube Rathole too many times we seperated Hunter from his girlfriend and finally headed north to Maine, home sweet home in Andover. We arrived at my parents’ house to find boxes in the garage, guest bedroom and the basement… looks like that “relaxing break from driving” would be spent moving boxes and putting all our “stuff” we forgot about into storage.

Cirque of the Towers

How do I capture the Cirque of the Towers into a 500 word blog post… easy. Go look at the pictures page and then put it on your bucket list.

When we finished up with our “to-do list” of checking out Oregon State and Boise State we started doing things just for fun. After spending a few days hanging out with some of the coolest people we met on the road, Luke and Lindsay, they recommended that we go do a hike called “The Cirque of the Towers”. It seemed like a great time for Lindsay and I to do our first multi-day backpacking trip together. After buying a map and few supplies, we headed into central Wyoming from Jackson Hole. With some bootleg map reading skills, the Jetta made it through 25 miles of dirt road at 1am with the last 10 miles being the worst washboards we had ever driven.  We parked the trail head at 9,000ft ASL.

Lindsay hanging out next to Sandy Lake
Lindsay hanging out next to Sandy Lake

After camping by the car that night, we headed up the trail at admittedly a snail’s pace. We spent the first night, after hiking only 6 miles, at the picturesque Sandy Lake to soak in the view and give our lungs a chance to catch up. Day two took us over the 11,000ft boulder fields of Jackass Pass and into one of the most beautiful and awe-inspiring views I had ever seen. The cirque was actually a 180 degree arc of world class rock climbing with peaks around 14,000ft and a pristine high altitude lake at the center. No matter how eloquent the writer, I’m not sure even Thoreau or London could put into words how insignificant a human can feel when dwarfed by Mother Nature’s amphitheater. The icing on the cake: It was relatively virgin. To experience the cirque you had to really want to get there. The National Parks service had not built a paved road leading to the parking lot and the 9 miles to get to the top of Jackass Pass was no joke. Because of that, the people you met on the trail had an appreciation for the rawness of The Cirque and a mutual respect for what it took to get there.

Panoramic of the Cirque
Panoramic of the Cirque

Rather than going on our planned and ambitious 4 day, 35 mile hike we took our time and soaked in the sights. Playing cards in our tent next to a crystal clear mountain lake and taking a day hike up a 12,000ft ASL ridge line were experiences that could not be rushed. Sure, we could have put our head down and moved our feet forward to cover the mileage but we had food, water, time and one of the prettiest places we had ever seen, Alaska included. We spent our 4 days and covered about 25 miles on an out-and-back hike,  barely beating the Labor Day Weekend crowds who were on their way in.

Clay eating his hiker's "Birthday Cake" for breakfast on his birthday
Clay eating his hiker’s “Birthday Cake” for breakfast on his birthday

As a side note: Our 4-legged, red headed son is 1/2 Chow Chow and 1/2 mountain goat. He never slipped or even struggled going through miles of boulder fields. He jumped from ledge to boulder over 3 foot gaps while we climbed hand over hand letting him lead the way since he was clearly the proficient one. Hunter loved the rocks and the steeper, more rugged the terrain the better for him… he just wished we could keep up with him! Hunter also met his first pack llama this trip (almost getting kicked in the head) and even jumped into the water up to his belly for the first time ever!!

The experiment is over, right?

As we left Alaska two months ago we had one overwhelming thought… is this really happening? The excitement and adventure that comes with a year of traveling had an undeniable pull on us, but our bond with Alaska could not be ignored. We were blissfully ignorant during the drive through the northern areas of Alaska and the Yukon Territories but by the time we made it to Whitehorse, and beyond, the ugly truth began to set in: we were no longer going to be living in the ‘wild’ that was Our Alaska. It should be noted that we never lived in the bush; in fact, we had a comfortable little apartment only 30 minutes from the downtown of the biggest city in Alaska. Regardless of that fact, we felt like we were where we belonged. A 30 minute drive in the opposite direction took us to mountains that 4 years ago we could only fathom and another hour on top of that took us into a unending wooded oasis that had back country hiking in any direction.

Joe, Leslie and Lindsay take the Hunter and the Labs out for a romp in the March snow
Joe, Leslie and Lindsay take the Hunter and the Labs out for a romp in the March snow

Driving into the “civilization” of the southern Yukon Territories snapped us back into reality and we could no longer say that “we live in Alaska”… from that day forward it became “we used to live in Alaska”. All good things must come to an end and more importantly than that, the world that Lindsay and I want to see is much larger than even the biggest state in the USA. None of that mattered though when we hit our first stop light at a 4-way intersection in British Columbia and I looked at Lindsay and said “The experiment is over, right? We can go back home and have our stuff shipped back… right?” and without a word Lindsay nodded with a sad look in her eyes as we turned left towards Calgary.

We miss you Alaska… a lot.