Cuddling up with a Stack of Maps

ImageIt’s been a busy few weeks, mostly trying to find a balance between friends, work, training and gathering all the components needed for the upcoming hike across New Zealand. It’s taken a bit of an emotional toll on me in that I’m torn between wanting to spend quality time with friends and wanting to devote quality time to plan for the hike. Simply said, I can’t do both.

For any of those familiar with Bend, you know that it can be a socially tempting town, one rich with hiking trails, kayak runs, filmfests and a never ending list of delicious brew-pubs, food carts and restaurants. On any given day or night, I am tempted by these luxuries and up until now, I said yes, putting off tasks for preparing for my hike for that of a brew and burger. But my ways have changed, as my mind wants to be at home pondering over notes and drooling over maps; my legs the trail.

I felt particularly bad this weekend, as I bailed on a friend’s 30th birthday. It was spent at the Umpqua Hot Springs, a place I very much enjoy and have been to a dozen times. Which is partly why I bailed. I’ve just been so busy with last weekend’s adventures and getting ready to spend three nights on the river over Thanksgiving, that I’d rather—and more importantly needed—to invest my time reformatting trail notes and train for something I have yet to see. There’s hot springs in New Zealand, after all. I just don’t know where they are…yet. I also bailed because this weekend was extra nippy, with temperatures dipping into the low teens. With the lack of daylight as it already is, I didn’t want to subject myself to cold temperatures on top of that. And true, hot springs in cold temps can be quite lovely, but they also can be troubling as my body is constantly in a fit trying to keep my shoulders from freezing while the rest of my body cooks to the color and consistency of a lobster. And lastly, I bailed because I am house- and dog-sitting this week and I love house-sitting. Why give up the luxury of a big, ol’ house to sleep in the woods? I’ll be doing enough of that in due time.

Instead, I’ve spent the last few nights by myself, which I really enjoy. To be honest, I have a hermit-side. I truly believe I could live out in the middle of nowhere, miles from the nearest neighbor and even further from the luxuries of towns like Bend, and be totally content with it. I’ll let you know if I still feel that way when/if that day comes true. Alone in the comforts of myself, I’ve been waking early—at the first trace of light—to start my day by reading the morning paper, writing and then rolling around on my yoga pad. After, I pull my shoes on and together with Bella, an American Black lab vibrant in energy and entertaining character, we head off to the trail. Then I return home, open up my computer, and begin the slightly tedious task of reformatting hundreds of trail notes into a thru-hiker friendly version. These notes include 10 PDF files generously offered free of charge from the Te Araroa Trust. The information appears to be incredibly useful, but in general it’s designed for day-hikers, weekend hikers and section hikers who have a car, who have a dog or need to know where the toilets are. That said, there is a surplus of information I don’t need—though I do enjoy the connivence of a toilet—in addition to redundant information—how many times do I need to know not to litter?—, common sense information— “sand in shoes can cause blisters” —and a general excess of white space. Like I said, there is a vast amount of information that the generous folks of the TAT compiled, it’s just that the guide is not designed for thru-hiking. Not yet anyway.

Essentially the notes are broken down like this:

First into ten sections. Each section consists of between 150 to 450 kilometers(90 to 275 miles) worth of tramping, hiking, road walking and sometimes even kayaking. (Did you say kayaking, you ask. The answer is yes, but I’ll leave this for a later topic). The north island is broken into six sections: Northland, Auckland, Waikato-King, Whanganui, Manawatu and Wellington. The south into four: Neslon–Marlborough, Canterbury, Otago and Southland.

Each section is then divided into a dozen other smaller sections, depending on which “track” the route is following or other times, pathways and/or roads connecting separate “tracks.” Tracks are trails, FYI. The naturae of such tracks varies however, from well-groomed tread to tramping through the bush guided by posts or cairns.

In each of these smaller sections, it is described by distance, time and tramping standard. The reason for this is because tramping is not like hiking. It can be through thick vegetation and across uneven and treadless ground which demands more time than it would if you were hiking on a well-trodden trail. Essentially, it sounds a bit like pieces of the CDT, except they’ve calculated the time for hikers. This is reassuring in that while I’m struggling through thick veg to hike 2k/hr, I will know I’m not the only one and therefore it might bring peace of mind.

In addition to distance, time and tramping standard, there is information on the route—sometimes very specific, other times vague— as well as town info, including accommodation and resupply. There’s also occasionally information on history, culture and flora and fauna. Lastly, there’s a list of potential hazards, which after taking a gander over, I delete.

Picture 8

Before…

Picture 9

…and after.

As of now, it’s taken me more than 11 hours to reformat the trail notes designed for the north island. That’s roughly 1,700 kilometers, or 1,055 miles. That includes:

1) Copying/pasting the PDF into an InDesign document. (InDesign is a fancy-shmancy program used by designers and creative types. You know, the kind I used to be before getting into all this hiking.)
2) Implementing an efficient, easily identifiable hierarchy to the otherwise simple and redundant text.
3) Reading through and eliminating such redundant text so the 186+ pages that comprise the North Island can be reduced down to less than 20 pages double-sided. And that’s only the beginning. I’m sure I’ll shave off more as I invest more time to read over the notes more thoroughly. Right now my focus is mostly design.

It may seem like an excessive task, one that might not be totally necessary, but to me, it is. It’s an intimate process, one that I can become familiar with the trail while shaving weight off my back and saving the environment.

IMG_0128

Kinko’s Test Print: Can you spot the faint trail where the tip of the pen is? I couldn’t.

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Press Pros: The faint trail is very noticeable on this map. That’ll save me alot of mishaps out in the field.

Converting this information down to a thru-hiker friendly guide is step one. Step two will then be to look over all my consolidated information and lay out an itinerary using the maps I had printed recently. I must say that doing your research and calling the variety of printers in your neighborhood will pay off. I called a few, inquiring about rates and even had a couple print a test copy. What I found was that by using a small independent shop, the quality was far superior and it saved me $30. In the end, I had 75 color maps printed, double sided, on standard 24-lb laser. I was so impressed and so thankful that I did my research because if I hadn’t I would have ended up with lesser quality maps that would have no doubt landed me down the wrong trail at one point or another. That said, those are my foundation maps. I plan to do a few alternate trails while in New Zealand, and I will gather up more detailed maps while there.

As of now, I don’t have much other information except that I am flying into Auckland, staying with a friend whom I met on the PCT back in 2007, then taking a bus to Kaitaia and then hitch-hiking the remaining distance to the northern terminus, which at this point is still undetermined as I want to go to the northernmost point of New Zealand—the Surville Cliffs, which sit roughly 50km(30 mi) to the east. The other options are Cape Reinga (most common) or Spirit Bay. After that small detail, however, it’s just one foot in front of the other.

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