I’m in big trouble. I mean, like serious, knee-deep doggy doo doo. My problem? People.
I arrived in Wellington 10 days behind original schedule. No biggy, I thought, and reasoned that I’d make up time in the North Island. The terrain here is more suited to a runner after all. There are large sections along roads, and more frequent places to resupply, meaning a lighter pack and bigger daily mileage.
But all too often, Mr Reason and Mrs Reality decide to go their separate ways. Two
weeks in and it’s blindingly obvious that I was a fool was to think progress here would be faster. I am wading through treacle, stop starting more than I ever have because, well, there are people everywhere. And goodness knows I like people.
I collect them in fact. Their lives, their stories, where they grew up, how old their Grandma is, whether they’re a cat or a dog kind of person, what gets them out of bed in the morning and what they want to be when they grow up. I shrink them into mini caricature versions of themselves and store them in my mind and in the soles of my shoes for days when I need a smile, or to transport myself from the trail. I’m going to go as far as to say that I’m a people junkie. Try to make me go to rehab, and I’ll say no, no, no…
GIVING IT SOME WELLY
Whenever I’m asked whether I’ve been to New Zealand before, the answer sticks in my throat. Because the honest answer is yes. As a 19 year old I lived in Sydney for some time, and while I was there I did the typical European thing of thinking I should ‘pop across’ to New Zealand. Which is as ridiculous as saying I’ll ‘pop’ to North Africa from the UK.
Alas, my memory of a week spent in the country’s capital city is hazy to say the least. I have absolutely no idea what I did. I wasn’t even drunk. I didn’t have any money to be drunk. All I remember is that I took myself on a walk, read all 3 Lord of The Rings books (in a single week?!), had my debit card declined when I tried to withdraw money for a Snickers bar, and ate cabbage and potatoes for tea every night.
I took a punt that these weren’t the only memories I should take away from a city as vibrant and eclectic as Wellington, so this time I arrived with eyes wide open. On a mission to mix a week of down time with a visit to
as many coffee shops as humanely possible. I ticked off the local establishments one by one: Flight hangar, Te Kouka, Brew Bar, Cuckoo… I was a woman possessed. In between caffeine inhalation I went on variety of family excursions with Paul and Lindsey, my rented parents for the week. I visited the inner-city wildlife sanctuary of Zealandia, ate what was voted New Zealand’s best pie, took a windy drive over to the Wairarapa valley (my rent-a-folks let me sit in the front, on account of the fact that I get car sick and am prone to vomit). And if that wasn’t enough, to put a glistening cherry atop the cultural cake, I also went to see Shaun the Sheep at the cinema.
And yet, for all the things I did with a week in Welly, what I loved most of all were the hidden parts of the city. Notably the network of footpaths between the suburbs and the centre. Like a modern version of Naxos, who’s crumbling stone clad walkways take on a life of their own when the sun slides from view, Wellington’s myriad of steps, slopes and back alleys are all part of the city’s charm. By the end of the week, I’d managed to memorise the route ‘home’, plus a few variants, and was feeling exceedingly proud of myself. The fact that I got lost in the Botanical gardens on the morning of my departure is really neither here nor there.
THE WELLY WARRIORS
When the time came to leave, I made my way nervously to the Wellington cenotaph, in front of the city’s parliament building. To my delight there were 15 perfect strangers gathered, ready to join me for a run out of town. This was Saturday morning, prime time to get some training in before washing the car, running the kids to soccer practice, going to the supermarket, and all those other things that consume a worker’s weekend. I was truly touched that these guys had given up a slice of their free time to come and say hello. As the ‘Welly Warriors’ escorted me out into the hills at the back of the city, we shelled runners at intervals, each one of them packed off with a sweaty hug of gratitude and an oversized high-five. When, after 10 kilometres of company, the time came to trot Northwards on my own – I was absolutely buzzing.
It was a scorcher of a day. I’d shuffled my way along a not-so-pleasant highway from Palmertson North to Feilding, my mind now focussed firmly on the bottle of ice cold Fanta that lay in wait, just a kilometre down the road. It was then I spotted another runner, stopped at the side of the railway track, just up ahead. He was
looking at me. I was looking back at him. And I thought that seeing as we were both looking, we should probably converse some. A few minutes into the exchange, it became apparent this was no ordinary dude. This dude was Perry Newburn.
Perry holds the Masters World record for the fastest run across America, which he completed in 51 and a half days, averaging 94 kilometres per day. He also ran 5,000km around the coast of New Zealand, and then from Auckland to Christchurch, to raise funds for the victims of the earthquakes. He then took on the challenge of running for 72 hours straight around his local motor racing circuit – just to see how far he could go. Suffering from his hallucinations and exhausted, he crossed the finish line having covered 500 km. That’s another World record, by the way.
But it wasn’t just Perry’s accomplishments that made me smile, as he joined me for a run out of town the following day, What buoyed me the most was that two perfect strangers, from two different generations, living on the opposite sides of the planet could find so much in common. And what I loved even more was that Perry insisted he wasn’t anything special. He genuinely believes he’s just a normal guy who likes to run. And in a way, he is. It just so happens that he has the mental capacity to keep going far, far longer than most.
THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT
More towns in the North island means more schools. And I’ve been in my element this week – visiting a greater number in the past two weeks than I did in the entire South Island. Sharing tales with kids is still a hugely important part of the journey. They’re the ones in charge when we all kick the bucket, after all. Anything I can do to encourage them to explore, understand this planet, and appreciate one another, well, it’s got to be worth a crack.
I always begin a school talk with an attempt to explain why I do, what I do. And the best way I’ve found to show that is with this diagram up there. It’s painstakingly obvious, beautifully simple and a point often forgotten in everyday life (by myself included). My favourite thing to do is to then ask the kids to explain the diagram to me in their own words, no matter how young they are.
In one primary school, I’d finished talking about the cycle through the 50 states, and went on:
“And what do you think happened to me after I’d been back in London for a while?”
A blonde haired boy raised his hand tentatively into the air. “Yes, you there, young man in the Spiderman top – go for it.”
He screwed up his face, angled his head down toward his lap, and looked up at me:
“Your magic bubble got all squashed up, n’…. an’… and it went back inside your com-fa-table zone?”
Precisely. He nailed it. If an 8 year old can understand the difference between cruising through life, and truly living – then there’s hope for us all.
And I’ll leave you there. This week’s challenge is to make sure your magic bubble gets an airing. Or to appear in public wearing a Spiderman top. Your call.
Until next week adventure team,
If this blog has tickled you even slightly Pink, please help me send some disadvantaged youngsters on adventures of their very own here