It took 5 years but I knew without a doubt that it would happen one day.
There have been are a lot of places that I have wanted to see but going here, to the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, this was different.
Admittingly embarrassingly, the image of it first came from a rather quick google search on hiking. I had meant to do a vision board for the beginning of 2009 and stumbled upon the National Geographic image of a hiker standing against a backdrop of 3 vibrant emerald pools.
Not even bothering to find out the name of the location, I downloaded the image to my computer.
The image would later play on repeat in one of those digital photo frames on my office desk. A reminder of the exciting ambitions I had beyond advancing the corporate ladder that laid ahead of me at 24.
I cannot say that I dreamed about it or worked for it during the next 5 years. I simply had the image in my mind – and in that photo frame. Something that I wanted to do, somewhere that I wanted to see. There was something about that image that just called to me. The sole hiker, the remoteness, the hidden beauty of the sparkling pools against the dry terrain. I didn’t just want to see that place, I wanted to be that person.
Working towards it then wasn’t about researching airfare prices or the best time of the year to hike. It wasn’t about getting the time off or finding a travel companion to do it with, it was about working to become the person that would do these sort of things. The person who seeks new places. The explorer, the adventurer, the lover of life.
Years before I made it to the Tongariro Crossing, I had a friend pass away during a wingsuit accident in the French Alps. Days before his disappearance, I had wished Shane a happy 32nd birthday while he was still in Paris. I still remember the image of him smiling, reeling off the adrenaline of having just -illegally- basejumped the Eiffel Tower.
Faced with the early passing of an his son, Shane’s mother decided that his sense of adventure should live on in the friends that knew him. She gifted his friends with a vial of his ashes and encouraged us to spread him around the world so he could continue to live on in those moments that he had so avidly sought.
I accepted the vial in a moment that I felt so lost in my life. I could not have been more distant to Shane as a person. I was not seeking adventure in that moment, I was not thirsting for life. I was shying away from life. Reeling away from suicide loss, I felt the weight of a life ending before it had really lived.
Then there was Shane. At 32 he had explored a variety of interesting careers, been married, managed a divorce and in the process of it all collected a number of wild stories that could easily be that of movies. He seized the living hell out of life, and at 32 left with a life that people don’t get at 82. He was an adrenaline junkie, an adventurer and above all, a lover a life.
I kept his vial in a toy cat figurine in my bookcase and promised I’d take him somewhere good. I would do his memory justice.
The vial would go on to sit there for a year. From time to time, I would find that the vial and the cat had fallen to the floor from their careful placement on my bookcase. I would joke to friends that true to his skydiving roots, he was jumping off the ledge, perhaps signaling me to do it as well.
I didn’t. At least not right away.
It was funny at first but after the third time I came home to the vial on the floor, I started to wonder if he was getting desperate. Was I staling? The perfectionist in me justified it as wanting to find just the right place. The reality, I didn’t know how I would jump without falling short.
When it finally happened, when we hiked the 19.4 kilometers, I had 2 marathons and 2 half-marathons under my belt. It seemed, if not easy, perfectly normal and doable. I had done this already. By the time this hike took place I had had my fair share of failures in the outdoors and I knew the quickest thing you could do to get over fear was to get right out there. By the time I was ready to let Shane go, I knew what I needed to embody the kind of person that he was. I wasn’t letting go, I was accepting he would always be with me.
Truth be told, I bought my flight to New Zealand first and researched where to go second. On the top of the must-see, must-do items was the Tongariro Crossing. There it was. The name behind the scene that flashed every 15 pictures on my desk. The hiker and the pools.
You would think that after all this, I planned it all out, right? Not quite. I starred it on our road-trip map of the North Island, reserved a room so we could sleep close to the starting point of the trek and that was the extent of our planning. I woke up the day of our hike like any other day, had breakfast, worked until 10am, showered and rushed to get our stuff in the car.
Thinking about it now, if we had planned this out like the guidebooks told us, we might have had a completely different experience. Our lack of real planning meant that we arrived to the starting point about 6 hours after the suggested arrival. Daniel and I joked that we arrived on Mexican time. We briefly questioned our timing as we tightened our sneakers’ laces in the car but quickly dismissed the thought in pursuit of the adventure ahead and embarked on, with enough water, snacks and enthusiasm to figure it out.
What resulted from our apparent lateness was that by the time we reached this point all of the other trekkers had already passed us. They had either pushed on through the pass or had made their way down, waving, laughing at our lateness, and encouraging us on as we passed them heading steadily the opposite way.
When we reached the point, we found that we were the only two souls remaining on the pass. The basin stretched out ahead giving light to the set of 3 emerald pools. From our vantage point, we could see miles ahead in each direction. I found the spot where I saw that National Geographic shot and sat there, taking it in.
This my friends, was magic. This was action, this was growth, this was intention at work.
The temperature was dropping and the sun would be quickly setting but in that moment we were vibrant.
We raced down the rocky terrain, slipping and catching ourselves as best we could but not letting the falls hurt our spirits.
We had arrived – not just to the pass, but we had arrived to that point in our lives.