Diary of a Mad International Solo Traveler

Dear Diary,

I did it.

I traveled solo internationally to the south island of New Zealand and came back both mentally and physically intact. Well, as intact as a mad baby boomer can be. Whatever.

I know it wasn’t a huge stretch. New Zealand shares an ocean with my homeland of California, it’s language is one I speak (except with a way cooler accent), and the crime rate is pretty much at a “sleep on the street and still be safe” level (mostly).

This is the first of many posts on New Zealand, because as you know, I’m a very human traveler and the mis-adventures must accompany the adventures in honest storytelling.

I need to preface this post by saying that I had high expectations of New Zealand. Having been #2 on my bucket list (It would just be too sad for me to go to Tahiti alone which as you know is #1, and you also know I have no illusions about actually getting there with my Wyatt Earp type hubby) for most of my adult life creates, over time, no small set of ideals. Now couple that with the cost of such a trip and the amount of gorgeous photos on the internet (learned through experience they are taken by professionals at a special time setting I don’t have, or Photoshop enhanced) and the bar is so high I had already started mentally preparing myself for some degree of letdown.

New Zealand in reality blew away anything I could have ever dreamed of. Like the Grand Canyon, there is no photo or prose that can accurately capture the ridiculous amount of beauty that has largely remained unarranged by the hand of man (I spent most of my time in the “bush”). Now add the beauty of the people of New Zealand (referred to as Kiwis going forward), and it is a place at “bucket list with value added” status. The stuff dreams are made of. Truly.

My trip however was not without a few hiccups.

My first stop on the itinerary of my two week adventure trip with a company specializing in the small group south island bush experience was to be spent in Kaikura, which just mere days before I arrived had been hit with a devastating earthquake. My heart broke for them.

Since I am from California, I am familiar with Earthquakes, even the occasional devastating one…which makes me also savvy of aftershocks. And since I was flying into Christchurch (which is just south of Kaikura and still recovering from a devastating Earthquake of it’s own) and spending a night there, I was a little on edge.

Much less devastating but still unnerving, my flight had left LAX 2 hours late and subsequently Qantas held a flight for me from Brisbane to Auckland (not on my original itinerary and definitely not on my checked luggage), and when I had to catch a puddle jumper sized plane from there into Christchurch, I had the sinking feeling my checked luggage hadn’t made the same trip.

It hadn’t.

BUT, my Qantas experience didn’t take away from the beauty of Australia that I managed to capture from my airplane window and boded well for the coming attractions of what I would find in New Zealand. This is an aerial photo taken outside of Brisbane but I’m not sure if it is the Coral or Tasman Sea…(untouched by special timing or Photoshop).

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CRINGE WORTHY MOMENTS

  1.  My hubby had purchased a special international data plan for me that should have more than covered my communication needs whilst on my adventure. As soon as I touched down in NZ, I got a message on my phone that I had used 80% of my international data plan. Turns out all those games I played waiting at the airports were not on a very strong wifi. Dang it. 
  2.  My first experience going through customs without a traveling companion was much more embarrassing than anticipated. My hands were full with passport, associated custom claim forms, phone with proof of return air booking, two outerwear jackets, and carry on pack…which did not make for a smooth transition from customs officer to inspection officer. You know how in comedic movies the clumsy actor drops some of his stuff and then as he walks forward to pick it up he kicks it even further away? Yep…that was me, and I was as surprised as anyone at my spontaneous Jim Carrey like performance. The customs officer watching me even left her post to help me move forward by carrying some of the stuff I kept dropping and kicking, that’s how pitiful I looked. Sigh. I never realized before how much of a pack mule my hubby is.

Moving on….

I didn’t have the luxury of sitting around a few days until my luggage showed up, nor could I afford to replace all of the specialty clothing I had packed in the “only slightly larger than carry on sized” polka dotted suitcase I affectionately call Dottie. Because Dottie is more than just baggage, she is like a very large purse to me. A friend really.

And she accessorizes what’s left of my city girl psyche. You know…like Legally Blonde or something. I may be a late blooming outdoor adventurer, but dang it, I’m holding onto a little of my inner Barbie.

I filed a claim for my missing Dottie and hailed a taxi to my hotel which was about 20 minutes away. Thankfully, Maryvale Manor did not disappoint.

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Truly lovely place and after 17 hours of waiting/flying/waiting/flying/flying, I was so happy to take a hot shower and have a cup of…tea.

My first inkling that I “wasn’t in Kansas anymore Toto” was the conspicuous lack of coffee amenities. 17 days later when I returned home, I kissed my hubby, my dog, and my Keurig in that order. Not sure of the order if the Keurig had met me at the airport.

My lack of travel savvy and old school authoritarian upbringing compulsively ensured I  followed the rules of the adventure company that asked you only bring 2 carry-on sized bags (silly me, it turns out nobody else did). In hindsight, I so wished I had packed like a Legally Blonde type city girl.

CRINGE WORTHY MOMENTS –

  1. Why oh why did I opt for the lesser expensive electrical adaptor? I plugged it into the wall outlet and felt quite smug about my planning. Then I plugged in my US iPhone plug with a USB port and the adaptor promptly fell out of the wall. I stared at it in disbelief. I had to find some random things to stack and prop the adaptor up to the wall outlet, then plug in my appliance to the adaptor. This turned into a nightly ritual for me during the trip, and since wall outlets are at much different lengths from the nearest surface, it was not an easy feat. It was also the first thing I threw into the trash upon landing at LAX.
  2. Why oh why hadn’t I packed my jammies into my carry on? With my Puritan upbringing I could not walk around my room in the nude (and I wanted to enjoy the sights outside anyway), so back on with the clothes I had worn for the last day and night already. Yes, the ones I also slept in that night in the event of an aftershock and I had to exit my room with haste. Planning people, planning.

The next early morning I had a cup of tea (ok, now I’m starting to get concerned about my daily requirements of caffeine) and took another expensive taxi ride back to the airport where I’d hoped my prayers would be answered and Dottie would be there. I was already feeling a bit cross from a lack of coffee and the thought of spending the next 17 days in an outfit not appropriate for hiking, biking, and kayaking.

I arrived at the airport and reported to the Qantas lost baggage claim area (I’m making that sound easy to find, it wasn’t) and handed the clerk my receipt of the claim form for the missing Dottie. This is how the conversation went after she looked up the claim number.

Clerk – “This claim was filed yesterday.”

Me – “Right, yesterday.”

Clerk – Hands paper back to me and says, “Well, there has been no activity on it yet.”

Me – “So when can I hope to see activity on it?”

Clerk – “When they find your baggage.” And gives me a dismissive look as she turns back to her phone.

Me – “Could it have come in on a later flight last night or an early one this morning and it just hasn’t been logged in yet?”

Clerk – “Probably not.”

Me – “Really? Could you look in your newest batch of homeless luggage and see if it is there? I’m desperate as I am being picked up this morning and won’t be back to Christchurch for 2 weeks.”

Clerk – Takes a long look at me. Luckily, I would find out that this person was not atypical of Kiwis, and likely was from Australia (according to Kiwi sources). “You know, luggage looks the same and I wouldn’t know what I would be looking for. You need to wait until there is activity on the claim.”

Me – “First of all, I won’t know when there is activity on the claim because I will be out in the bush off the grid wearing exactly what I have on for the next 2 weeks. Secondly, my little suitcase has white polka dots on a black patent leather background with a red ribbon tied around the zipper pull. Can you please just give a little look? Please, I’m begging at this point.”

Clerk – Groans, turns off her computer, and disappears through the door that I envisioned housed a warehouse full of luggage, but in reality couldn’t have been much larger than a small room. She promptly returns through the door carrying my beloved Dottie. I gleefully provide my luggage tag and virtually floated away rolling my beloved behind me.

It pays to accessorize.

Before leaving the hotel that morning, I had used some of the 20% I had left on my international plan to contact the adventure company and let them know to pick me up at the airport instead of the prearranged hotel. I checked the time on my barely recharged phone and noted I still had an hour before being picked up.

CRINGE WORTHY MOMENT –

With Dottie in tow, I headed to the nearest place that emoted a coffee aroma and checked the menu. I assumed that the menu was like Starbucks,  it said a shot of espresso under where the house coffee of the day was delineated – I happily ordered it and thought that my morning was turning out to be a rousing success.

When my name was called, they handed me an extra tiny shot glass of espresso. The panicked looks from my tiny little shot glass to the menu and over again instantly gave me away. I realized that everyone in the small shop was staring at me. I took my tiny little shot glass, grabbed a napkin, and sat down with grace and dignity and sipped it as if it was a proper cup of coffee with a shot of espresso IN IT.

No Toto, we are most definitely not in Kansas anymore.

To date – Qantas has an open claim on my dear Dottie, which really is no matter since after my trip home with them left me stranded in Melbourne for 13 hours at night with no Aussie money …they are dead to me.

Until next time dearest when the adventures and mis-adventures of a city girl turned late blooming international intrigue seeking mad baby boomer in New Zealand begin…

 

 

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Wallowing in My Bliss

Dear Diary,

I know it’s been awhile, but I’ve been busy conquering a mountain. A mountain you say? Yes. I conquered a mountain.

From the time I was old enough to look out of the window and take note of what was outside, Cucamonga Peak has loomed large over my very small life.

For 57 years, this mountain has given me assurance that some things are unchanging. And when I am gone and come back, Cucamonga Peak means I am home.

This peak and I go so far back that I long ago considered it mine. It may stand tall over millions of Southern Californians, but it’s my compass that Cucamonga Peak  provides a true north for.

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Now imagine my surprise when that flat topped source of a lifetime of comfort began taunting me.

“Beat me. I dare you.”

It’s no secret in this diary that these mountains have done nothing but teach this city girl respect. And terror.

Remember that time I was on an icy ridgeline and narrowly escaped sliding to my death 6 Things I Learned On the Trail – That Everyone Else Already Knows? Or how about the rattlesnake that was kind enough to teach me what one sounds like when they are mere inches away from my exposed chubby leg People are Funny, Rattlesnakes are not?

And all of these occurred before I ever got to set foot on the actual peak of my desire.

Why would a perfectly normal baby boomer who lives in a perfectly normal house, with a perfectly normal husband (ok, that one might be a stretch) keep self administering the pain and agony associated with hiking?

All I can do is tell you what I tell the women in my Bunco club, “It quiets the voices inside my head .” Then we all have a little laugh.

But the joke is on them. It really does quiet the voices in my head. The manic pace that thoughts race through my brain. The sheer speed and randomness make it impossible for me to grab hold of one and make sense out of it’s origin.

The only thing worse than those manic thoughts are the tired old thoughts that come back over and over again to crush me under their weight. To sneak through a crack in my carefully crafted wall of defense to demoralize me.

Besides, it might be rude if I answered the Bunco ladies question of why I hike with truths. Like; “I just don’t find cleaning my house over and over again fulfilling”, or this one “Having faced my own mortality, I would rather walk while I still can”, or the ever popular “Trapped on a ship with 5,000 other people is much like sitting in traffic 24/7 to me.”

That last one is super snarky I’ll admit. But since I’ve never really said it out loud, it doesn’t count.

Besides, for the life of me, I really don’t know why I wouldn’t rather be sitting in a stateroom waiting to be pampered by food servers rather than punishing myself on the slopes of a mountain that may not even like me.

But I wouldn’t.

So I hike, but I have no illusions about my limitations. I am used to being the slowest one on any given trail. I make myself feel better by remembering that just 3 years ago, I wasn’t able to even make it around my block. But still the mountain taunts. It doesn’t care about me and my little woes.

So last week I pack my 10 essentials and head up the same old worn out trail I have huffed and puffed up many times now. But today would be different. All the right elements (I didn’t even know what they were before they actually occurred) came into alignment like planets to the sun. 1. A couple of women my age played leap frog with me (meaning we had the same skill level) up the Ice House Saddle trail (that leads to 5 different peak trails) with me and were headed up to Cucamonga. 2. I made it up to the aforementioned saddle in new record time (for me), which meant it was still early enough in the day to actually consider making an assault. 3. I could still breathe after 3.4 miles and 3215 ft.

So I texted my husband that I was going to take on Cucamonga (for some freakish reason, I have phone coverage at the saddle) and on I went. The two ladies who shared my skill level were long gone once I finished my protein bar and considered actually taking on the mountain. I was alone.

So it was just me vs. the Cucamonga Peak trail. And it proved to be all that I had read about it. Painfully steep, terrifyingly narrow, with drops so far down I couldn’t see where they ended.

But both the manic and familiar destructive voices were silent. Only my breathing and balance mattered.

I adopted a mantra “if they can do it, I can do it” that kept cadence with my feet. Once in a while, I allowed myself to stop and take in the vista. The wonderment kept me buoyed to have the faith that I would make it.

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Of course, I made all the same mistakes. On the most narrow and terrifying parts of the trail, I froze instead of keeping my pace. But each time I would find the nerve to steady myself and move forward. Without falling. I can’t help but think that God has great influence in saving me from myself.

Being the slowest one up the mountain (except for a couple that quit early on, and thank you for that), has it’s surprising advantages. The view ahead is sometimes good too. But I digress.

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I caught sight of one of my greatest hiking fears (besides bears), forest fire. But it was far enough in the distance to not be a threat.

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Long past the point when both my legs and lungs had given up, I kept going by sheer will power. I could not quit. The damage done to my psyche would be irreparable. I made up my mind that even if I had to spend the night in a hollowed out tree, giving up was not an option.

I had to rest after each 30 or 40 steps on the last mile. The switchbacks went on for miles in that last mile. I felt like after every one of them the summit would be in sight, but just more switchbacks met my expectations. Even the seasoned hikers that seemed to fly by were groaning under the ascent.

After seven hours, the two women who had originally inspired me were on their way down. One said, “I thought we lost you at the saddle”. At this altitude, I couldn’t get enough oxygen to my brain to understand what that meant. All I could do was smile. It must have been painful to look at because she went on to say, “you are only 50 ft. away from the top.”

So like Dory from Nemo fame, I just kept swimming. And 50 ft. later I came upon the summit that had either comforted me or taunted me every day that I called the Inland Empire home.

But this time, I was the champion.

There were others at the summit so I refrained from actually collapsing. Well I collapsed, but I executed it in slo-mo style so it appeared that I was in control of my knees. I finally found the energy to ask a fellow peak bagger to take a photo of me. Even I wouldn’t believe it without proof. I had ascended 5,407 ft in 6.4 miles (according to my gps). I bagged one of the highest peaks in Southern California.

I win.

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No matter what happens in my life after this, I have only to look out of my window to remind myself what I am capable of. I shall wallow in this bliss for a very long time.

Until next time dearest.

 

 

 

 

 

Piute Springs – A Trek Through Time in the Wild West.

Dear Diary,

How appropriate that on the last day of 2015 we took a trek back in time to the real wild west of old. To a place so far off the beaten path that one feels like they might be intruding on unseen activities going on has they have for a thousand  years.

We continued our quest of following sections of the old Mojave Road. We headed out to explore a place just off the “old government road”.

This road has been used by Native Americans, Spanish missionaries, explorers, Mexican traders, the Pony Express, American Cavalry, miners, and western settlers alike.

All with the same quest; to reach California.

Long before any non-native set foot in the area, legend has that bands of Paiute, Navajo, Apaches, Chemehuevi, and Aha Macav (Mohave) Indians fought for ownership of the most valuable resource in the desert.

Water.

And as we would find out for ourselves, Piute Springs has plenty of it. Cool and fast flowing water that comes up out of the ground only to disappear back into the desert in just a half mile.

Waterfall

The native Americans used this route to trade with coastal Indians in California. The Mohave “Runners” could cover 100 miles a day in some of the most inhospitable terrain to be found.

Mohave Runners

Just trying to hike amid the cactus is challenge enough for this city girl…I can’t imagine running through it for a hundred miles.

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Ok dang it, I’ll just admit that I can’t run a half mile anywhere. Even if someone was chasing me. With a gun.

The earliest recorded non-native traveled this road in 1776 in the form of Francisco Garces, a Spanish Franciscan missionary who would convert the first area native to Catholicism in what is now Hesperia, California.

Francisco Garces would be killed in Yuma just a few years later by natives as a punishment for Spanish settlers violating terms of their treaty.

The Mohave tribe first provided guidance through Piute Spring for Friar Garces into what is now known as Cajon Pass in 1776, and for many more  for the next nearly 100 years until the Mohave and settlers/soldiers/miners became increasingly hostile over what amounted to simple misunderstandings. As a result, Fort Mohave was erected at the Colorado River to keep peace and provide protection for white settlers.

Fort Mohave no longer exists.

Just 22 miles west of the Colorado River however, lies the ruins of what is now known as Fort Piute (originally called Fort Beale after the man that brought camels into the area as a failed experiment).

So off the beaten path we go to find this relic of wild west history. 21st century explorers replete with our spirit of adventure and a well appointed off road vehicle.

God bless GPS. Within just a couple of hours, we had traversed a very rough road (I actually have city girl bruises from foolishly trying to rest my arm on the door while being bounced around like a tournament ping pong) to reach our destination.

We parked the Jeep and equipped ourselves in preparation for going back in time. For peeling the layers of human habitation and walking among the remnants of those intrepids in whose footsteps we were about to follow.

The most obvious and looming is the ruins of Fort Piute, built in 1867 and abandoned in just 6 months.

Fort Piute

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I walked into the fort and as always, am filled with a certain reverence for those who came before me. Especially in a place as harsh as this.

As I looked back at our lone steed parked below and took in the beautiful vista, I thought about how this place had been a flashpoint of violence for generations of peoples.

View from the soldiers quarters room.

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Fireplace

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And I don’t feel alone. I feel as though there are still sentries here.

What looks like a fort is really just a single layer amid many layers of human struggle. Layers of time one on top of the other like an onion. The Indians, the Spanish, the soldiers, the homesteaders, all imprinting this tiny half mile of land with their own blood, sweat, and tears.

Just a few feet from the fort is the snapshot of a layer from 1929. The Smith family lived here and although it is overgrown, I can still see where their home sat.

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Really? They had a regular ole car that managed to carry them to and fro? I’m not feeling so good about my bruises from the Jeep right now. A little wimpy in fact. Nothing new.

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Members of this family still live in nearby Needles, California.

Just east of the Smith home lie the layers of ruins from two failed farms.

In 1928 Thomas Van Slyke homesteaded here to make a go of farming fruit and grapes. He patented the land and subsequently sold it in 1944 to George and Virginia Irwin who attempted a turkey farm. A letter from George and Virgina Irwin to a Mrs. Welsh in 1957 brings this couple to life with their own words…


George and Virginia Irwin to Mrs. Welch, 7/10/1957

This letter was found at a garage sale by Keith Collins.

Wednesday July 10, 1957
Box 247 Needles, California

Dear Mrs. Welch;

We have been the owners of Fort Piute or as it is known in the War Department records, Fort Beale, named after Lt. Edward Fitzgerald Beale who made the original survey in the year 1853, since 1944. The property was purchased from Mr. Thomas van Slyke who took a homestead and later patented the land in 1928. Mr. van Slyke told us that the fort was built in 1867 and it was one of six such redoubts that were established along the old Government Road from St.Joseph Missouri to Los Angeles (Wilmington – Fort Drum). This road roughly ran paralell (sic) to the 32 meridian and was surveyed as early as 1847 just prior to the finding of gold in California. After the news of the gold strike activity was increased in making roads across the country therefore these stopping places were established which were near water and were approximately one days traveling time between stops. There have been many articles published about this old Government Road and it would take a small book to elaborate on the history of this road. However we like to pass on any information that we have and we are in a position to refer you to Mr. L. Burr Belden who is the history editor for the San Bernardino Sun newspaper. He has at his fingertip pictures and the full story of this famous trail. May I suggest that you write him in care of the newspaper. I feel sure that he will answer any questions you might have. If you are ever out here near the fort drop in and see us and we will be glad to talk to you about the fort. We live at tne Metropolitan Water District switching station 25 miles west of Needles on Highway 66. As you no doubt noticed the area is replete with Indian writing petroglyphs. These writings are very old and even the Indians who live near here at this present date do not understand them nor can they interpret their meanings. Also there are numerous graves located along this trail and unless one were pointed out they would pass unnoticed.

We hope this information will be of help to you and would be glad to speak to you in person if you are ever out this way.

Sincerely yours,

George & Virginia Irwin

As for the ancient petroglyphs? Yes, they are there providing a deep time layer amid the more recent ruins of the turkey farm. Pet-Mojave-014

The ruins of the turkey farm and the home of George and Virginia (feel like old friends now don’t they?).

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Lastly, I add my own layer in the form of footsteps as we hiked the “old government road” (old Mojave Road) through Piute Springs and back again.

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What an ending.

‘Til next year dearest.