Working for a living (Part 3, days 4-5)-Xroads

I was feeling the effects of the first three days (Day 1, Days 2-3) on the fourth day when I had to hump all my gear up and over a pass to a new Bivy. It was exciting to get a change of scenery, but the pack was heavy as I was carrying gear for the days trapping plus all my overnight kit plus the damn laptop and Ipad and book and journal that I’d decided to bring (the former two having long since become little more than dead weight).  I tried to convince myself that it was good training, and maybe it was, but man it was hard work!   But once at my new digs I got to lighten my load and explore some cool country, including some wicked and precipitous ridges on the last day.

A ridgetop path straight out of LOTR. Wicked!

A ridgetop path straight out of LOTR. Wicked!

Burning the midnight oil...

Burning the midnight oil…

Glassy eyed, up-nosed self portrait on the morning of day 5.

Glassy eyed, up-nosed self portrait on the morning of day 5.

Tools of the trade--eggs, raw meat, and a drill.

Tools of the trade–eggs, raw meat, and a drill.

Looking south, planning future swim runs!

Looking south, planning future swim runs!

A nice tortuous ridge to walk on the last day.

A nice tortuous ridge to walk on the last day.

Even after 5 days of sun, the place was still wet and verdant!

Even after 5 days of sun, the place was still wet and verdant!

X-roads biv. Home sweet home.

X-roads biv. Home sweet home.

Working for a living (Part 2, days 2-3)-Astelia Biv

Although my island days (see part 1) were hard work, they weren’t that long.  Typically I’d finally muster the will to get out the door around 9:30 and on some days was back at the hut by 3:30 or so.  That leaves a lot of time for thinking.  Sometimes I’d spend an extra hour or so in the sun on a ridge above camp, but much of that time was spent in the bivy. Once my laptop ran out of charge (I got through two movies, but only by fastforwarding through then end of ‘the circle’–didn’t miss much with that one) I would read the old issues of whatever magazines or newspapers were lying around (except pig hunter, just couldn’t get into it) and do plenty of journal writing.  Oh, and cook and eat too. Here are a few pictures from days 2 and 3.

Over 200 traps checked and only 1 stoat caught.  We've gotta bag em for DNA testing...

Over 200 traps checked and only 1 stoat caught. We’ve gotta bag em for DNA testing…

The Astelia biv in the morning.  It sits in a pretty shaded valley. There was a skein of ice on the lake that never fully melted.

The view from the biv in the morning. It sits in a pretty shaded valley. There was a skein of ice on the lake that never fully melted.

Boredom and hunger can cause creativity.  Here I sample an avocado, salami, tasty cheese, and berry jam wrap.  Try it.  Delicious.

Boredom and hunger can cause creativity. Here is an avocado, salami, tasty cheese, and berry jam wrap. Try it. Delicious.

Astelia Biv catching a few moments of afternoon sun.

Astelia Biv catching a few moments of afternoon sun, just about to go into the shade.  Look closely!

Astelia Biv self portrait. There is not heat in the huts, save for the candles, but it is warmer than you'd imagine!

Astelia Biv self portrait. There is not heat in the huts, save for the candles, but it is warmer than you’d imagine!

A camera + candles + too much time on my hands means I have WAY too many pictures like this...

A camera + candles + too much time on my hands means I have WAY too many pictures like this…

I wasn't by myself the whole time...this Weka was good company during my stay, a bit cheeky though, inviting himself for dinner...

I wasn’t by myself the whole time…this Weka was good company during my stay, a bit cheeky though, inviting himself for dinner…

Working for a living (Part 1, day 1)–Island Life

One of my jobs is as a pest control contractor.  No, I don’t fumigate buildings or chase raccoons out of urban areas. This is pest control New Zealand style–trying heroically (and perhaps futilely) to dial back the clock and eradicate a handful of introduced mammals that threaten native (flightless) bird species like Kiwi and Kakapo.  I’m lucky enough to do this work in the largest of NZ’s national parks, Fiordland National Park.  And occasionally I’m super lucky enough to land a spot on a trip to one of the Park’s two big islands.

Resolution and Secretary Islands (the seventh and eighth largest islands in New Zealand) both sit in the middle of nowhere.  And a decade or so ago they were both chosen as sites to try to make pest free to serve as sanctuaries for native critters that were being decimated elsewhere.  After a decade of work, both are free from most of the non-natives that were threats to the indigenous birds.  But both are still subject to potential reinfestation by mustelids (stoats in particular), which can make the swim from the mainland when population pressure gets high enough.

So long story short, they cut a series of tracks around the islands and lined them with kill traps every 150 meters. It’s my job to check those traps and rebait them.

Secretary island from the tops. It is steep everywhere!

Secretary island from the tops. It is steep everywhere!

This last trip I was on Secretary.  Five days of work out of a tiny hut.  A helicopter commute on both ends and communication once a day via inReach.  Being in Fiordland, the weather is often pretty, well wet.  But this last trip I got all time lucky and had 5 days of sunshine.  My socks stayed dry (thanks to some fancy footwork) the entire time.  Such a feat is simply unheard of–normally I’m soaked to the skin from the knees down within 10 steps out of the chopper. But I digress.  It was a great trip.  A great jumpstart to hill training for GodZone, and an awesome way to earn some dollars to keep food on the table back home.  Because of the fine weather I even decided to carry my camera with me for the duration to share some of the vistas and document my luck.  Enjoy!

Tracks along the ridge can be nice, or they can be gnarly. Thankfully, periodic wands with markers lead the way

Tracks along the ridge can be nice, or they can be gnarly. Thankfully, periodic wands with markers lead the way

My day's route ends up over that peak that in the distance...

My day’s route ends up over that peak that in the distance…

The pad for 5 days. Cozy.

The pad for 5 days. Cozy.

Brussel sprouts for dinner!

Brussel sprouts for dinner!

Good looking surf break down there...if only I'd brought my board!

Good looking surf break down there…if only I’d brought my board!

A sunny day in the mountains, looking at other mountains, is good for the soul!

A sunny day in the mountains, looking at other mountains, is good for the soul!

Off by 50 revisited–working for a living

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Tools of the trade…

A couple of years ago I made an attempt to define what ‘doing well’ in an event meant to me.  I’d long ago decided my goal was to be able to ‘do well’ across distances and disciplines in pretty much any challenge I took on, so eventually the term begged to be clarified.  What I came up with (you can read the original blog HERE) was essentially that to be able to complete a task within 150% of the time it took a world champion to complete the same task, was, at least in ways that made me pretty content with it all, doing well.  

Assuming I met this goal, I’d be a sub 3:05 marathoner, be able to do a 40 km time trial on the bike in 1:11, and swim 50 meters in around 31 seconds.  [Click HERE for other “Off by 50” times]

Lately though, I haven’t been racing much, and so wondered if my fitness still measured up.  Yesterday I had a chance to find out.

Adrian Braaksma: world champion stoat trapper and bush sushi connoisseur

Adrian Braaksma: world champion stoat trapper and bush sushi connoisseur

You see, there are more ‘real world’ applications against which this metric can be applied, and one of them happens to be my ‘real world’ job–stoat trapping.  My boss, Adrian Braaksma, is arguably the world champion of stoat trappers, particularly on one section of track leading deep into the wilderness along the infamous Dusky Track.  Now Adrian has been doing this approximately 10 km ‘run’ for years–stopping every 200 meters along the way to open a wooden box with a wrench, rebait the trap with an egg and some rabbit meat, and then close the box before continuing to the next trap.  43 traps.  A trail that defies description.

Last year when he was training for a slew of events including GodZone and Challenge Wanaka–and after decades of honing his abilities to travel through the bush at superhuman speeds–Adrain set his own personal best, completing the ‘run’ in 2 hours and 12 minutes.  Now it may not sound that fast, but only because you haven’t seen the trail.  Even the likes of Uli Steck himself wouldn’t stand a chance of beating this time without some dedicated, on-site training.  

So I had my goal.  3 hours and 18 minutes.  To increase incentive, I caught a late boat across Lake Manapouri (the track is only accessible by boat) with a return scheduled so that I had five and a half total hours to get back to the boat.  I reckoned I could run the way out (no traps to bait) in 2 hours, based on previous attempts, so I had my window.  Unfortunately, the vehicle that should have been waiting for me (the track started 5 km from the boat terminal) wasn’t, so I had to bike up the hill to the start of my mission. Allowing for the bike back down and the trigger happy boat Captain, this whittled my time for the out-n-back along the track to 5 hours.  I gave myself a 3 hour turn around time and set off, intending to smash the record.

One of four walk-wires on the route...

One of four walk-wires on the route…

The track was drier than I’d ever seen.  Normally there is a 100 meter section of knee deep water right off the bat.  Nothing but mud.  Things looked good…for a while.  Then I hit the second walk-wire which had been demolished by a tree.  4 or 5 more massive tree-falls broke up my pace by requiring me to crawl and climb my way around the obstacles.  As the path ascended along the river valley, the ambient temperature dropped and the box lids became frozen shut, requiring more time to open them.  Ice and frost on the bush soaked my clothes and made me cold.  The massive clearing of ferns that always makes me lose my bearings struck again and cost another 5 minutes before I found the track again.  I was soooo close.  I ended my journey, on schedule, at trap 3, meaning I had about half a kilometer left to go to the ‘finish line’ of Spey Hut.  100 meters from where I turned around the track hit a swampy clearing where a boardwalk extended the remaining distance.  I was perhaps 5 minutes from the end.

In retrospect, I could have made it.  The boat didn’t end up leaving early after all.  I managed the run back in just under 2 hours, even getting lost again in those damned ferns.  I was a bit gutted to miss those last few traps, but reckon I would easily have managed to go under 3:18–besides, there’s always next time…late July/early August.  It’s good to have goals…