Posted by: The Trails Less Traveled | July 11, 2017

Let shit fly

Learn to let shit go, let if fly.

Don’t bother reaching out to the sky.

Just let it float away, I don’t care!

Let that shit float out of the stratosphere!

Why bother to stop to pick up what’s gone?

What’s gone is gone, so suck it up and move one!

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Posted by: The Trails Less Traveled | July 11, 2017

Gloom

This gloomy weather has gotten me low,

like fog in a valley down below.

How long will this bleakness last I do not know.

But to cross the unknown I must continue to row,

until I reach familiar shores where the sun will glow.

Posted by: The Trails Less Traveled | July 11, 2017

Voyage

The boat is built well, it is built with veteran hands.
the captain is determined, determined to reach foreign lands.

He seeks new adventures, for he knows he can never settle down.
Explore he must do, he knows he cannot turn around.

The boat struggles through the open water, the seas are very rough.
Sometimes the captain is so tired, he feels like he’s had enough.

He’s seen many lands, and each one he passed made him wiser and kind.
The land he seeks now, he can only see and feel in his own mind.

Some days are harder than others, he struggles not to give in.
And in the darkest of hours of time, he hears voices from within.

The voices encourage him to fight harder, for time keeps on passing.
Waiting any longer, regrets are only amassing.

Posted by: The Trails Less Traveled | July 10, 2017

New Zealand Dec 2016

Tongariro Circuit Day 3 to Waihohonu Hut

Usually when I travel anywhere I can point out at least one or two negative things but with New Zealand there is nothing…what a great country and great people too. The land of rugby, dairy, grass fed beef, world class hiking, I can keep going on and on. The history of the native Maori is pretty fascinating and the it’s such a beautiful country although a lot of the land has now been converted into pastures. I can only imagine how thick with lush green flora and exotic fauna  it must have been prior to mankind’s predictable impact and alteration of landscape.

Tongariro Circuit Day 2 to Oturere Hut

I am lucky to have a Kiwi friend Tori from New Zealand that I met on the Warmshowers site, a fellow cycling tour aficionado who comes from a lineage of bad asses. I hosted him while he was cycling the Pan-American route southbound from Canada to the tip of South America. His trip report is found here. We also did a cross country non-stop road trip called the C2C Express together. The C2C is inspired by the original Cannonball runs that took place back in the 70’s. It took us 42 hours 15 minutes of non-stop driving from NYC to Redondo Beach in an awesome big block V8 Chevy Van 30…the thing is a brick that consumes gas like there’s a hole in the gas tank. Anyway he had always told me how great of a country it was and the Lord of the Rings was filmed there so I had to check this place out. I found a Air NZ flight to Auckland in early December for under $900 so that was that.

Tongariro Circuit Day 2 to Oturere Hut

On the way there I fell ill, not sure if it was a flu or I ate something crappy…anyway the flight there was just me sleeping off a shitty sickness. On the same flight with me was Andy Ruiz Jr. who I was totally unaware of his stature at the time. He was fighting Kiwi Joseph Parker for the WBO heavyweight belt the same time I was visiting. It was  a pretty big deal in NZ. Anyway I landed still feeling shitty, met Tori and his awesome girlfriend Sally and they took me to their place in Papakura which is a little south of Auckland. I only had a full week and the main plan was to hike the Tongariro Circuit and road trip around while stopping by Tori’s hometown on the way back. I spent a night at Tori and Sally’s place and felt much better the following day.

Mitsubishi with a 3.8 Buick transplant

We loaded up on supplies at the local grocery stores around Papakura and then headed to Hamilton in Tori’s Mitsubishi pickup to pick up extra camping supplies. Fonterra is the state run dairy co-op, and they have a big processing facility there…other than that it’s got a nice mall and such. I also exchanged cash, which to my delight was a good exchange rate of 1.5 NZD to 1 USD. I can go on and on about the superior quality of the food and meat, but for time’s sake I will just recommend that you try real NZ milk, grass fed burger, meat pies with an s because one won’t satisfy, fijoa yogurt, any yogurt actually and if you’re adventurous try some Marmite. And don’t be surprised that they keep eggs in regular grocery aisles…they don’t wash the shells in NZ so they stay fresh longer than the eggs sold in the U.S.

Marmite...a Kiwi thing

I realized that NZ North Island is very hilly and for that reason the roads are never that straight for too long, it is very curvy and up and down the further away you go from the main towns…and there aren’t many main towns to begin with. And everything is so green. The first stop was at Waitomo where they have caves and other cool things to do…it was a real touristy place with lots of adventure tour buses and whatnot. Being cheap travelers that we are, we stuck to the freebie sightseeing stuff around the area. I also tried a McDonalds NZ special grass fed burger which was delicious. We got to Tongariro National Park in the afternoon and started our hike to the first hut. I am very impressed with the NZ conservation agency that runs all the public lands. The park and trails were very well run, trails are maintained well and the hut system is awesome although I prefer a tent…it’s still nice to have a sink and a stove inside a shelter when weather goes south.

Tongariro Circuit Day 1 to Mangatepopo Hut

The Tongariro Circuit is probably one of the most popular circuits for tramping (it’s not called hiking when you’re in NZ). I suppose it’s because of the famous Mount Ngauruhoe which I still can’t pronounce correctly to this day which is also known as Mount Doom from the Lord of the Rings. You need to get reservations in advance for the huts/tent sites on the circuit. The trails are clearly marked with posts every 30 yards or so I’d say and with lots of signs…Tori says it’s to prevent tourists from getting lost and having to dispatch SAR which can add up. One of the issues NZ conversation agency is facing is the rising costs of visitors in their parks which is understandable…the cost of air lifting out tons of shit from the remote outhouses, for example, can get very expensive. That and the overall impact we inconsiderate humans have on the environment.

Tongariro Circuit Day 1 to Mangatepopo Hut

Day 1 was a half day spent hiking to the first hut. So these huts are manned by rangers and they like to round you up nightly and give a little talk on the history and stuff which is pretty cool. Most of the NZ history prior to the European settlers are about the Maori warriors fighting and eating their opponents. Day 2 was the big day as we hiked up the volcano and got some really nice photos during the break between the clouds. The hike is all loose scree so it’s kind of sketchy at times because rocks come flying down the mountain from the people tramping above you. The view from the top is pretty epic and there are steam vents here and there which is interesting to see. I felt bad for one Irish couple who took a nice photo of Tori and me because by the time they asked us for a photo of them in return, the clouds began to roll in and it ruined their photo opportunity.

Tongariro Circuit Day 2 to Oturere Hut

This part of the circuit is also the heaviest with day tourists because it is the most scenic with volcanic lakes and calderas…luckily the crowds thin out after we left this section behind. The hut we stayed at during Day 2 was in a very nice area with a waterfall and creek nearby with great views of the  surrounding volcanoes and mountains. Day 3 was a short hike that had us descending into forest which has so far avoided being destroyed by the volcano. We were there by noon and there wasn’t much to do other than checking out a nearby cold spring and a historic old hut.

Tongariro Circuit Day 3 to Waihohonu Hut

The spring was super cold and I had planned on jumping in but I wussed out. It rained and stayed overcast a bit from the afternoon to the evening. Day 4 was the last day of the circuit which was the longest section. There’s a nice volcanic lake on the way and you pass through boggy muddy terrain for some of the parts. There is also a really nice waterfall towards the end of the trail. Tori ran into his old school teachers there…he tells me it’s a NZ thing to run into people you know since it’s a pretty close knit country.

Taranaki Falls Day 4 hike back to Whakapapa Village

After we hiked out we headed to Lake Taupo and for some reason I was craving KFC so we ate a ton of fried chicken when we got into town. Tori found a nice hotel that was cheap but accidentally booked it on the wrong date online. Luckily the hotel staff were very nice and helped us fix the error. It felt good to clean up after 4 days of no showers. We wanted to cook steaks for dinner but the public grills at the parks weren’t working and they took my money so I said screw it and we bought some charcoal and a mini grill. We found a place to chill right by the shoreline of the lake and although it took forever to cook the steak because of my poor charcoal starting skills, it was pretty damn good when it finally was done. Lake Taupo is a weekend getaway area for Kiwis so there’s lots of things to do and places to eat/drink/etc. It was quite crowded but not overly crowded.

Lake Taupo

The following day was road trip day as we first drove to Huka Falls which is a massive rushing waterfall.

Huka Falls

Next we stopped at Wai-o-tapu which has a bunch of cool volcanic sights like geysers and boiling mud pits. We stopped at a super nice hot spring creek which was amazing…it started to rain while we were soaking in the creek surrounded by lush forest. The beauty of it all was unexplainable.

Waiotapu Kerosene Creek

We continued on past several towns and lakes on the way to Opatiki, Tori’s hometown. He had always told me it was pretty rural and indeed it was, but what a nice area…close to the beach and still a lot of untouched native bush and rivers. We spent the day lounging at Tori’s parent’s house. Tori’s dad Trevor runs marathons for fun…he is a bad ass. The following day we headed to a track that leads into a beautiful river gorge thick with native bush. It was raining so everything was wet, but it didn’t matter. One section of the track was kind of wiped out from a land slide, but we were able to walk over the new mud debris flow that covered the old track. Invasive species are a big problem here in NZ so hunting seems to be quite popular here for boar and such.

Pakihi Track

We left Tori’s truck at the start of the trail head and his dad left his at the end. The plan was to pick up the truck after we finished tramping and then pick up his dad who planned to run only 30 km or so…we took longer than expected so he ended up just running and running until he was pretty much almost home. So we turned back and headed to the start of the trail again to pick up Tori’s truck we left there. We came back soaked completely but it was an amazing experience.

Horses on the road near Pakihi Track

That night we watched the Parker vs Ruiz fight on TV and Parker won so NZ was happy. The following day we said farewell to Tori’s pop and headed up the coast. We stopped at Whakatane which is another beautiful place along the coast…we also stopped at Tauranga which is a cool hip beach town popular with Kiwis.

Pakihi Track big slip we crossed

Continuing on we passed through forested areas which has totally been converted into logging forests…logging is a major industry in NZ. We had a few more meat pies on the road before finally arriving back to Papakura. That night we went out to eat for a farewell dinner at a restaurant. It was kind of weird because you are seated but then you have to get up and order your food and then they will bring it to you. I guess it’s good because you don’t have to tip them but yea, anyway that was the trip in a nutshell.

Pakihi Track

On the way home there was 9 hour layover in Fiji which is something I would avoid next time around…there isn’t anything to see really around the airport area and the country is still pretty undeveloped except for the tourist hotels. It was super humid there. I just hired a taxi guy to drive me around and I got to try some really good Indian curry…Indians make up a major population of Fiji, they came over to work in the sugar canes during the colonial era. Nothing super cool there to see in my opinion, although I hear the outlying islands are much prettier.

Nadi Fiji layover

Posted by: The Trails Less Traveled | March 18, 2012

Japan Tsunami Relief Volunteer Trip March 6 – March 16, 2012

Rikuzen Takata & Ofunato

Just returned today from a seemingly short but exciting and memorable two week trip to Japan.  The trip was mainly arranged around a one week tsunami relief volunteer program called “Kizuna,” that was organized by Kintetsu Travel Agency’s Akira-san.  But my girlfriend and I decided to extend our trip an extra week to get some sightseeing in and of course, good food in our stomachs.  Although the cherry blossoms weren’t yet blooming in early March, the beautiful winter scenic shots of snow capped mountains and rivers in Iwate Prefecture certainly made up for it.  Not many tourists go up north this far, but we were fortunate enough to travel through this rural and relatively untouched part of Japan.  The people there are friendly and strong, we were deeply humbled by their strong will to keep moving forward despite the tragic events that unfolded on March 11, 2011.

We started our trip in Tokyo, a true definition of a metropolis.  We arrived to Haneda via DL637 at around 5AM.  We spent one night in Tokyo at Ours Inn Hankyu Hotel in Oimachi, couple stations down from Shinagawa.  We had one day in Tokyo before heading out so we decided to go to the usual spots around the Tokyo Core.  By nightfall, we found ourselves at Shibuya walking around for good food when we came upon a Mos Burger…if you’ve never tried this place before you’re missing out.

The following day we boarded a Shinkansen from Tokyo to Shin-Hanamaki.  From there we took a local train to Tono City, a city rooted in traditional folklore such as the water creature called the kappa. In Tono City, the volunteer group we worked under was Magokoro Net.  This was an impressive organization of highly dedicated volunteers.  Their base of operations and living quarters seem to have sprung up overnight in response to the tsunami disaster.  And yet it has turned into a permanent living quarters for the many volunteers who come and stay for days, weeks, and even months at a time.  I heard that the living quarters hover around freezing temps during the cold winters there due to lack of insulation and heating in the temporary buildings!  And yet, they were full of volunteers willing to endure a little hardship for the chance to volunteer.  The volunteer centers are full of camaraderie among those who stay there, and I was surprised at the number of foreigners who were there, from America to New Zealand.  Akira-san arranged for us to stay at the Tono City train station hotel Folklorio, however, which was a short walk away from the volunteer center.  On our first day of volunteering we woke up early and reported to the volunteer center for morning roll call and “radio taiso-” to start the day.  For that day we were assigned to Kamaishi, a small coastal town that was hit by the tsunami.  Our mission for the day was to clean up an elderly home that was flooded and to remove rust from the steel beams of the structure in preparation for rust prevention coating.  During lunch, we went further inland to the relocation area where temporary structures house convenience stores and restaurants.  The people here were very friendly and hospitable.  After our day was finished we headed back to the volunteer center, but due to time constraints we couldn’t stay for the end of the day meetings they have on a daily basis.  From Tono City, we traveled to Morioka by local train.  Morioka is the capital of Iwate Prefecture, definitely more urban and more populous than Tono City.  The city lies at the base of the impressive Mount Iwate (perhaps a peak I can conquer one day?).  Anyways, for the next 3 days this would be our base.

The first two days were spent waking up early to report to the Kawai Camp.  This volunteer center was set up inside a school and living conditions were seemingly better.  The road to this tiny village of Kawai follows a beautiful river that takes you all the way to Miyako.  During our two days here, we helped set up for the one year memorial event for the victims as well as a photo returning event where photos that were salvaged during the cleanup were on display so people could at least retrieve some small memory of the past that was all lost.  It was nice to see some people returning with pictures they found that belonged to them, but it was also sad to see those who came back empty handed.  Although it was definitely nice to help set up this event, two days of being indoors all day led to a little boredom.  Luckily, on our last volunteer day we met with another volunteer group led by Akira-san’s friend.  The final day of the trip would be spent doing manual labor in Ofunato cleaning up an oyster hatchery that was ruined by the tsunami.  One of the priorities of the reconstruction process is to jump start the local aquaculture businesses that was destroyed.  The people of Iwate are proud people, and although they seem to sincerely appreciate the outpouring of support from all over the world, what they really want is to rebuild and start working again.  The final day was laborious but gratifying because we could actually see the results of our work which was hundreds of sand bags filled with debris that was removed from the canals.  Our final day of volunteering also happened to fall on the one year anniversary of the tsunami disaster.  After lunch, we participated in a brief moment of silence to commemorate the one year anniversary of the Tohoku Earhquake and Tsunami disaster.  This was the most emotional moment of the trip for everyone, and a bit surreal…to think that such a devastating force of nature could come from such a beautiful and tranquil sea I saw that day while looking out towards the ocean during the moment of silence.  On our way back, we passed through Rikuzentakata which was one of the most horrifying scenes I’ve personally witnessed in my life.  Even a year after the disaster, the town looked like ground zero with huge mountains of debris everywhere.  Only a handful of buildings were able to sustain the tsunami’s power, only to become just an empty shell of a thing.  This town was essentially wiped off the map, and it is hard to imagine how it can ever return to its former self.  But the will of the people there are strong here, I have seen it with my own eyes.  I hope that over time they will be able to gradually overcome this great tragedy to move forward in the only way they can…one day at a time.

Posted by: The Trails Less Traveled | September 10, 2011

Mount Langley Sept 2011

Cottonwood Lakes to Mount Langley

Mount Langley may be the “easiest” 14K peak in California, but don’t let the rankings fool you.  Any 14K peak has to be taken seriously…this was my first 14K peak I tackled and although I conquered Langley, it kicked my butt. The Cottonwood Lakes Trail head begins at the end of Horseshoe Meadows Road which is in itself an amazing road that zig-zags its way up the mountain just out of Lone Pine. Not too many paved roads go that high into the back country that’s for sure!

Cottonwood Lakes to Mount Langley

Once the road ends at the Horseshoe Meadows Campground and you get out of your vehicle, you will immediately notice the thin air.  The trail initially takes you through stunningly beautiful yet barren sub alpine forests of pines and junipers.  Take time to rest and marvel at the twisted and mangled shapes of trees that have endured centuries of abuse from Mother Nature.

Cottonwood Lakes to Mount Langley

After crossing a stream filled with golden trout and frogs the trail will start climbing gradually more and more.  The trees start to thin out and eventually lush alpine meadows appear where the five lakes are located.

Cottonwood Lakes to Mount Langley

After you pass the crystal clear Cottonwood Lakes #4, the harrowing Old Army Pass comes into view, and then you start to wonder how the hell you’re supposed to climb any further.  You’ll only be able to make out some of the narrow ledges and switchbacks up the steep face of the cliff from the bottom, but fear not.  The Old Army Pass is hidden in there and still accessible.

Cottonwood Lakes to Mount Langley

Once you conquer the Old Army Pass the panoramic view of the Eastern Sierras and Owens Valley will reward you and forever be burned into your memory.  But the trip is still not done, and the elevation gain will start to take a toll on your body as you start noticing yourself slowing down and taking more frequent breaks.

Cottonwood Lakes to Mount Langley

Once you’re over the Old Army Pass continue towards the peak and then you realize that you’ll have to scramble up the last part of the peak.  Choose your route carefully and be prepared for some moderate climbing!

Cottonwood Lakes to Mount Langley

Now the hard part is over…or so you think.  You still have a little ways to go through barren terrain to the very top…don’t stop now.  Eventually you start slowing down and exhaustion overwhelms you more and more, it is getting harder to breath and concentrate now, but stay focused and you will find yourself at the top of Mount Langley.

Cottonwood Lakes to Mount Langley

Enjoy the moment of success at 14,026 ft. and take lots of pictures and sign the registry…but don’t get too cocky. Just look to the north and you’ll see that there is an even bigger peak looking down at you waiting to be conquered…Mt. Whitney. Think you aren’t afraid of heights? Think again and look down the steep face of Langley if you dare!

Cottonwood Lakes to Mount Langley

For now though, stay focused and carefully descend the peak taking care not to step on precious fragile vegetation. Once the summit fever leaves you, your body will once again start telling you that it is oxygen deprived. The summit fever will have left you by now and now you’re just preoccupied with getting back to camp to replenish your starving body. Don’t take it personal when the yellow bellied marmots start chirping, telling you to get off their turf.

Cottonwood Lakes to Mount Langley

Look back a couple more times and marvel at the peak that is Mount Langley and be proud that you were able to conquer this behemoth!  But watch your footing as you descend the steep Old Army Pass once again to return to more friendly terrain.

Cottonwood Lakes to Mount Langley

A big shout out to my climbing partner Tommy D. and looking forward to many more peak summits!

Cottonwood Lakes to Mount Langley

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