Friday, December 28, 2007



Luxmore Hut

From the top of Kepler Track

I'm typing up a few notes I took while on the Kepler Track...
We're just finishing up lunch after an awesome day of hiking. We only have a 1.5 hr descent down to the Iris Burn Hut.

The hut-to-hut system is awesome. Last night we stayed at Luxmore: sleeps 50 in big bunkrooms and has a bunch of gas burners in a kitchen with a monster view of Te Anau and the snow capped ranges that surround it.

We were happy to see the shelter since it had been a pretty steep climb... 2500' in 13.8 km. Emma and I had been laughing about how her pack looked super big but weighed about half of mine. The hike started along the lake, with nice sandy beaches and clear blue water. When the uphill started, however, we both realized just *how* heavy our packs were. By halfway up, Emma looked like a flower after 30 seconds in the microwave. And it dawned on us we were doing a loop; that is, we could have left a bunch of stuff in Te Anau. The tent, two stoves, two sleeping pads, and the liter of soy sauce all were suddenly extraneous.

I fantasized about having a contest on the blog where we post a comprehensive list of everything we were carrying, its weight, and its reason for being in the packs, then let everybody vote items off the list. But it would have been too much work.

So the main debate went something like this... Chris: We're carrying too much shit. Emma: This is what you have to carry in order to go backpacking. Chris: We're carrying too much shit. Emma: Find something we don't need. Chris: When I find it, I'm chucking it off the next viewpoint I find.

To be honest, my vision of backpacking is a bit unrealistic. In 7th grade I read Ray Jardine's book, which laid out a system for ultralight backpacking: like 12 pounds without food. Straight minimalist to a psycho degree. But there's gotta be a way to not carry over 60 pounds. (Update: we found a bunch of stuff to ship to Christchurch so that we don't have to hike with it. The next hike was a bunch easier because of it.)

But we both made it to the top without trouble and we got a great view as a reward. And upon arriving to the hut we found some other people had carried some extraneous stuff too... half a dozen guys had a 20 pack each, and a few bottles of whiskey as well. To each their own, eh? As for us, we made a huge stirfry with this teriyaki packet. Oh man it was awesome.

And today, the views have been out-of-control awesome. Panoramas. Lakes and green valleys and snowy mountaintops and a trail tracing its way along grassy passes.


Math Conference

View from Dr. Rad's House

Overlooking Auckland

Chris in Auckland - Full Sex Option

Out of the bush!

Sorry for the lag in blog posts, Chris and I have recently emerged from two weeks in the bush. After two tracks, the Kepler and the Routeburn, we are taking a much needed break in Queenstown.

Queenstown is the center for tourism in the area, kind of a shocker for us after backpacking. Think Sun Valley. Not quite our vibe, but we were able to find a hostel on a hill just above the city. We spent the day yesterday with a few 12 packs of Tui lounging in the sun looking out at the city and mountains. The sun here is super strong due to a lack of ozone, so while Seaners and I ate it up, Chris had to cover up. Great afternoon, we couldn't have asked for better weather.

Now for a little rewind...the rest of our time in Dunedin was great. After the math conference ended we were able to drive out to our professor's house just north of the city. Awesome. The house is set up on the cliffs and looks straight down to the beach. Even with the wind and rain the ocean and sand reminded me of being in Hawaii. We spent the night playing a game similar to charades with all the math professors and went for a walk along the cliffs and beach in the morning before driving back to Dunedin.

Chris and I caught a bus over to Te Anau, the jumping off point for our first backpacking trip. The Kepler track started on the shores of a beautiful lake before climbing up to a ridgeline. We continued across the ridge to a nearby valley before descending and making our way back around to the beginning of the track. Chris is going to write more about this track in a bit.

Ending in Te Anau again, we stumbled our way back, our poor legs had been through a lot. It was painful just to get out of bed, but on the upside I guess my thyroid drugs must be working because I was able to make it up and down almost 3000 ft in a day without dying. After a quick nap and laundry we made our way into town again to find some food. We had been thinking about pizza for most of the 20 km forced march back to the trailhead. We were wandering the streets and scoping out a potential dinner place when we saw a head of curly hair come running out - Mr. Sean McCarron! We were planning on meeting Sean the following day at the first hut on the Routeburn. Quite the coincidence.

I am going to end for now since I want to call Ethan to wish him happy birthday. More on the Routeburn to come, along with Chris's post on the Kepler Track. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Miss you all. Also, here are the first of some pictures! I will probably post a most extensive album on Facebook.



Monday, December 17, 2007

Nerd Alert

Hey everybody. We're in Dunedin, New Zealand right now. Thought we'd write you a quick note.

We left Auckland on Sunday without any trouble. Before catching the bus to the airport we thought it would be a crime if we didn't try the amazing smelling Korean BBQ joint across the street from our hostel. We'd been walking by everyday and pausing to check out the menu. The meal proved to be a life saver, since the trip to our hostel in Dunedin took a little longer then expected.

After chatting with a woman who moved to Dunedin to raise her childen as Kiwis and running the wrong way down an excalator because we were at the wrong gate, we finally made it on board our flight. Flying over sheep farms and herds of cattle was quite a change from the skyscrapers in Auckland, one which I definitely welcomed. Our plane landed in Dunedin (on the one lane runway) and after reaching the red lights signifying the end of the pavement we took a quick u-turn to make our way to the terminal. Never done that before.

There was only one way to get from the aiport into the town - a kind of super shuttle. The $50 shuttle was a bit more then we had anticipated (our daily budget is supposed to be $60) but oh well. The ride into town took almost two hours because we were the last ones to be dropped off. Dunedin might be one of the hilliest cities I have ever been in. Some of the streets we drove on were like a roller coaster, but luckily I didn't get carsick. The town even boasts the steepest road in the world - we have yet to see it but hopefully we will at some point.

We are staying at the Manor House, a huge old house-turned-hostel, which is a nice change from our windowless room in Auckland. For the past few days we have been at a math workshop at the school of pharmacy. Our days consist of modeling problems and two breaks for tea. Perhaps the best part comes when we get "wine and nibbles" at the end of the day. Its been awesome to see Dr. Rad and two other Pomona students who are here as well. The workshop has had its ups and downs. My group consists of a husband-wife team of optimal control theorists and a father-son team from Poland - so it's been hard to contribute to any problem solving. Chris, on the other hand, has a problem dealing with controlling the release of drugs from tablets. Today I got to work on some of the graph theory modeling with him and Rad, definitely a better experience.

When not occupied with our extreme awesome nerdiness, we have been exploring the town of Dunedin with Alison and Rob, our fellow Pomona math majors. One of the oldest in the country, it has a fair amount of Scottish influence. There are a handful of beautiful old churches and a train station that is the most photographed building in New Zealand. (We will post pictures soon.) We just got back from a tour of the Cadbury factory (aka free chocolate), which was fun. Not only did we get to see the second largest liquid chocolate "waterfall" in the world, but I got to make fun of Chris because he had to wear a beard net in addition to his hairnet. Haha.

Tonight we are going to dinner with the rest of the workshop participants. We start our first backpacking trip on Friday, so we will be sure to write again before then. We are enjoying all your comments, and no Chels: its not your blue shirt but a different one. Love you all,


Saturday, December 15, 2007

Goodbye Auckland

Well, Emma's on the other side of the room smelling her armpits, so I figure I'll just write a bit. We decided to go with ultralight synthetic shirts which have the delightful side effect of storing body odor and letting it really ferment to its full potential. So far Emma's ahead on this front, with her blue shirt in the lead, but my only cotton shirt of the trip might be making a comeback in the final stretch before we hit up the laundromat in Dunedin.

Today we finally decided on a way to track day-to-day finances. Up until now we had been tracking credit card activity for shared items on a Google Docs spreadsheet, having a row that calculates how much one person owes the other person. But now that cash is involved we're using the little Moleskin notebook and have three pages going: one page each that tracks withdrawls from checking accounts and any use of a credit card, and then one page that tracks how we use cash. It has four columns: date, D(ebit), C(redit), and Description. Yeah, I know: quite anal. But if all those Mediterranean traders arrived at this method, we might as well use it too. We were already getting confused at who had withdrawn what and how much we had spent where. Right now we're a bit over-budget, but NZ should be the most expensive: we'll keep you posted.

I think we'll both be happy to get out of the cities. I've almost been run over a few times after not looking the right way when crossing the street. Caught Emma looking the wrong way a few times too. It's so unnatural that I have to consciously twist my entire body to the right before stepping into the street. Must look like a tourist right off the boat.

But then again, on several occasions people supposedly have mistaken us for locals. Today the weather was pretty great, so we walked to one of the beaches just outside of town. Somebody came up to us saying she was taking a survey of Auckland residents for something or other. With the camera, the day pack, the goofy hiking pants? Come on! After chuckling about that, we had a great time for the next few hours, sitting on the sand watching all the action in the bay. I really wanted to get out in one of those fast little sail boats; a few high performance 3-person ones were going so fast they were almost catching air. I tried a bit of swimming to prepare myself for surfing in the months ahead, but just confirmed what I already know: I'm a sinker. We'll see if that improves.

Off to Dunedin.

Friday, December 14, 2007

City of Sails

The only stressful thing about the airport is that I decided to be a rebel and not claim any food items on the card they hand out on the airplane. In fact, I’m carrying about 15 pounds of energy bars my mom used to make for my bike rides; they will serve as backup food so that I can ward off any grumpiness that comes when I get hungry. We didn’t get searched so it was fine.

The bus ride into town was about 40 minutes, and we arrived at our hostel at 6 in the morning, but couldn’t check into our room until 1pm. So we put our stuff in the storage room and explored the town a little. We found some WIFI at a coffee shop that had great muffins. I worked and Emma finished up a romance novel.

The main excitement so far: we were in our room and heard some laughing from people in an adjacent room as they left to go downstairs. Emma swore she recognized it. After we finished unpacking and were lounging in the kitchen area, Chelsea’s good friend Katie Hall and her boyfriend Todd walked in. Small world! They both go to Pomona and were on the last day of their month long trip through New Zealand. They just happen to be on the same floor at the same hostel in the same city at the same time. Crazy.

So we figured there was some celebration due. After trying out a few of the New Zealand beers we find out it’s quiz night. We figured four Pomona kids on the same team was pretty much unstoppable, so why not give it a try? There were some pretty random questions; the only section I provided some help was the Beatles section. We elected Todd for the challenge round. The goal was to be the first to be wearing sunglasses, scarf, bra, men’s underpants, and a hat. The girls ran up to the room, got everything together, dressed him in 2 seconds flat, and he ran back down to the bar as the winner. We won a weekend trip for 2 to some nearby islands. We ended up third in the main quiz after getting screwed with several valuable questions on an Australian soap. But then the winners came over to our table and gave us those prizes anyway; we bought their table a pitcher.

We went to check out another part of town, but we found that immediately next store was the most interesting of all. We weren’t sure if it was a hole-in-the-wall massage parlor or a Chinese restaurant, so I ventured inside to report to the rest of the group. I saw a guy at the register, but at the top of the stairs my peripheral vision saw about 15 women hanging out at the bar. I go up the desk and look down at the menu: massage $40, something else $80, and low and behold, “Full Sex: $180”. I nod approvingly, as if I were judging the value of such a proposition against other competing offers, and politely say “Thank you.” Walking back down the stairs as one of the women call after me, “Come back soon honey!” Wow. We were laughing about the Full Sex option for a while after that.

Unfortunately, the weekend trip didn’t quite work out because it’s peak season and we’re leaving for Dunedin before the trip returns to the hostel. The other prizes were vouchers for the Magic bus that goes around the South Island, but we are going clockwise and all their trips go counter clockwise. Shucks!

Needless to say, we’re feeling lucky to be here. Yesterday was sunny and we made a monster sandwich and went and chilled at a park overlooking the bay. Tons of sail boats out; Auckland’s the city of sails after all.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Getting out of dodge

The morning was a bit stressful as predicted. I was pretty much on the phone all morning with work while Emma did everything to pack to get ready to go. (Emma's dictating here.) I chose a pack that is too small, although it is really cool - only 3400 cubic inches. Once backpacking we'll be able to get it to carry more stuff, but until then, Emma's bag is bigger (Chris says bulkier) and 6 pounds heavier (indisputable). Ah well. We'll see which pack the heavy stuff ends up in once we start gaining vertical feet.

A few of the last minute phone calls included: getting details straightened out between our web hosting company and our web design company. I'll be doing a bit of development work while in New Zealand before shipping the laptop home. Another phone call was to the Mommacita, asking her to send my international certificate of immunization to the hostel we will be staying at in Dunedin. Turns out it's required in order to enter Africa -- small detail. Typical airhead Chris.

In between phone calls, April, Peter and I are discussing the merits of bringing the nice camera case. We're bringing a digital camera that's got a pretty sweet zoom even though it's a compact rather than an SLR. The case has built-in padding and even has a hidden pocket with a pull out waterproof case cover. Mom could have spent an hour giving a sales pitch on this thing. Emma's still in bed, trying to give the no-go (because we don't have room in my pack). I put my laptop down on the corner of the bed to go over and examine the camera bag myself. Emma rolls over and -- oh sh!t -- her leg extends in such a way to lift the covers and nudge the precariously balanced laptop over the edge of the bed, landing very hard on the floor. Eh, it happens all the time, right? Well, we open it up and a third of the monitor is black, another third is nicely striped, and the last third shows Windows Vista perfectly.

Eventful morning. I'm typing this on Emma's computer, which has better music anyway. Other than, we got to the airport and on the plane without a hitch!

In case you're wondering about the mobile pharmacy we got going, I'm bringing:
Tylenol - headaches
Advil - joints
Aleve - arthritis? I dunno, my mom packed that one.
Vicadin - Real pain
Dioxycyline - Malaria
Ciproflaxin - Traveler's diarrhea
Arithromyacin - Travel's diarrhea

And here's Emma with her list;

Malarone - Malaria
Ciproflaxin - Traveler's diarrhea
Arithromyacin - Travel's diarrhea
Levothyroxine - thyroid meds
Dramamine - no puking
Iron - get strong
PeptoBismol - tummy medicine
Ambien - pass out!
Immodium - plug ya up!
Lactaid pills - eat some cheese!

Maybe we'll write a bit more once we land in Auckland.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Time to get up and go

It's that feeling of being right on the edge of a cliff and suddenly realizing how close you are to the edge and how much space separates you and the bottom.

On one hand, it's exciting. On the other hand, I'm hesitant to leave. These last few weeks I've been cherishing the stuff I know I will miss. My showers have been extra hot and extra long. I've eaten at all my favorite restaurants and monched down on all my mom's best dishes.

This morning I woke up and met Mark and some other guys at Stumptown coffee and rode for a few hours. Light overcast and colder than a witch's titty; even started snowing a tiny bit. This will be the first winter I haven't been in focused training-mode for more than 9 years. Feels a little weird.

Just got Daddio's 5-minute-till-bus-is-leaving-call from upstairs. We're driving up to Seattle: they'll drop me off tonight, Emma and I will spend the day packing tomorrow, and we board Tuesday.

I will be reading math on the plane. We are going to a 3 day math workshop in Dunedin. It's a mathematical biology thing; doctors bring some problems and the professors and students who come try their best to come up with a solution. A little cramming, a little math with some nerds, and then the trailhead.

I do regret how little I hung out with people this last month or so. I got to play Halo, which was awesome, but I've been programming to the point of carpal tunnel, finger tips calloused from coding. I've been really focused on finishing what I said would do, finishing what is allowing me to bounce out of here and explore. Mom and Dad have been super supportive as always. Everything else is taken care of so that I can devote myself entirely to the task. Last year it was training. This year it was coding. My eyes are bloodshot from lines of C#.

Getting on that plane I'll have a big sigh of relief. And then I'll realize I'm in for a big, frickin' adventure. Here goes nothing.