March kicked off with a visit to the local court to see ADNZ Raven’s support crew many of the courthouse staff all chip in towards Raven’s fundraising effort. The place was a bit chaotic due to a change in Covid19 Alert Levels. I don’t think Raven fully appreciates what “Social Distancing” means! Thank you so much for your continued support of Raven and Assistance Dogs NZ Trust.

ADNZ Raven wearing her blue harness. She standing getting a lower back scratch from a woman sitting down in an office setting. A sticker saying "Thank You" obscures the woman's face
Don’t let the judge catch you not social distancing Raven!!

Later that week I had planned to get out to Alice Nash Memorial Heritage Lodge in the Ruahine Forest Park. I had unsuccessfully tried to wiggle my way out of a Zoom meeting, so as soon as my meeting was done I shutdown the computer, threw my gear in the car and I headed towards the hills.

I was just driving along and I saw the ute way up road pull out. It had a bed on it with an upside down armchair on top… I thought “oh someone’s moving”…. as I got closer, “I hope that lot is tied down with more than that single ratchet” I started backing off a little….My next thought was “that doesn’t look that secure” started a couple a light pumps on the brake to give myself a bit more reaction time….

Strong language warning Then “Nope that armchair is starting to move” just as the ute hit a couple of bumps, time went into slow mo… “Fuck that is moving, it’s coming at me”… “this is it” kept pumping brake while pulling left slowly…I watch the armchair hit the ground just ahead of me and explode into pieces, and took a deep breath and somehow came to a stop at the side of the road with the main base of the armchair lying in the middle of the road 3m behind the car, I have zero idea how it missed me but I’m glad it did….

I knew there was another vehicle a wee bit behind me and leaped into “shit, risk of further accident mode” and started walking quickly back down the road frantically waving the next car to slow…. this car had slowed and passed as the guy from the ute had finally done a U-Turn and was retrieving the base of the chair off the road….”Shit thanks for that” the guy from the ute says… I just kinda looked at him and he says “didn’t hit you did it?”… I said “Nah but it was bloody close….” and then the guy has walked off saying “I think you’re gonna have to get your missus a new chair…” And he was in his ute and gone….

A picture taken looking down a station wagon. Antnz is in the drivers seat looking pensive. In the back seat is a black backpack. In the boot ADNZ Rave is looking towards the front of the vehicle
Well I wasn’t expecting that! Good to be home.

I sat on the side of the road for a bit, having a bit of an argument with myself about what to do next. I figured I had either: a) gotten all the crap luck of the trip done and dusted, or, b) the was the start indicator of where the trip was headed and things were headed downhill from here. In the end I decided I was grateful to be alive and just wanted to hug my partner, so I turned around and headed for home and rescheduled the trip for the following week.

Being home however did provide an opportunity. I received a call from the Community Occupational Therapist (OT). This referral was made back when I saw my Neurologist almost a year ago. If I had been in the hills I would have missed this call. I booked the OT in to see me before I tried again to head out to the hills. Although I am doing really well right now, who knows what tomorrow will hold and I have had enough of having a shower that can be a hazard. So the upshot is that the OT has been and will be looking at some alternative equipment for the bathroom a bit safer.

The other this that I needed to talk to the OT about was testing “wider” systems responsiveness from an EGL perspective to provide a contribution to ADNZ Raven’s funding. At this point we will test Equipment Management Services and see what sort of response we get. There will be fundraising walks happening over next summer to go towards this cost as well. I had hoped to get these walks done this summer but it just hasn’t worked out that way with so many different things going on for me. We will see how this application goes.

The week seemed to crawl along in time, mostly because although it was great getting out a few weeks ago with Pete & Natt, I have been desperate for some “just me” time out bush. Yes, I know, I’m not really “just me” because I have Raven, but I can’t exactly have an intelligent conversation with her. Although I have my mental health battles, I haven’t resorted to having conversations with myself, yet.

A landscape shot looking up the Oroua Valley. This picture is taken on the edge of the farmland heading down into valley. Starting from the night you can see a walking trail heading down past and behind the first ridge.
Yep, glad I pack our waterproofs!

Although the weather forecast wasn’t great, it didn’t put me off. As Billy Connolly has so aptly said “I hate all those weathermen, too, who tell you that rain is bad weather. There’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothing, so get yourself a sexy raincoat and live a little.” I’m not sure I have a “sexy raincoat” but I have a raincoat and I try to make the most of what I have and “live a little”. A not so favorable weather forecast in the middle of the week meant that the chances of having the hut to myself were quite high.

I haven’t carried a pack with anything over about 5kg in well over a year so I really wanted, maybe needed to, get out and really see where things were at physically. I’d spoken to my med team and got clearance to do this trip, but we decided to put off the next medication titration a week to work around any anticipated side effects. Raven hasn’t done anything more than walk around the block with some stuff in her bags so it was a bit of a test for both of us. I was loaded up to 14kg (including consumables) plus another 2 kg in camera gear. Raven was hauling 2kg, a light load which will build over time. As Raven’s pack-weight increases (max of 6kg), my pack- weight will come down. I also know that if I get a new pack I can probably cut 700g or so from that, and again with my sleeping bag. I also had some “comfort/luxury” items on this trip because I am not really trying to get the most Ks I can, it was a “I need to get out by myself and chill” trip.

A large black backpack leans on the back wheel of a car. The front passenger door is open on the top, left of screen. To the left of the back are red, dog backpacks, with boots and a mini tripod left on stop. On the right of the backpack, a set of elbow crutches leans on the backpack. In front of the back pack, a black leather leash lies on the ground.
Mostly ready to go!

I have done this trip in the past so I knew what I was in for, and it is one of the shorter wanders into a hut. The kicker of this track however is being a valley crossing there is a whole lot of down followed by a whole lot of up; which means no matter which way you go the last push out is going to be uphill. At least on the outward trip there should be a little less weight having eaten the food. I also strapped the SideStix (thanks SpeedySnail Mobility) to the sides of my pack so if my legs did give out, I would be able to haul my butt out of there. In the past it had taken me about 45 minutes to an hour to the hut.

I took me 1 hour 20 minutes, and that included a few picture stops and a few “mini rests” along the way. I didn’t think was too bad considering this was my first real “no sticks walk” off footpaths and with a hefty pack on. When I did my map checks before this trip I estimated it was about 440m elevation loss/gain over what I thought would be about 1.5km; turns out it was 750m total elevation loss/gain over 2.5km.

A picture of ADNZ Raven, she is standing sideways wearing a red jacket and red saddle bags. Raven is standing across an arched bridge looking quizzically over the side
“Well that’s higher than the other bridges I know!”

It was also Raven’s first just “us” trip so I wanted to see how she was going to go with such a different environment with so many sniffer opportunities right there. She is an absolute dream, mostly focused on what she was being told to do, and responded well to instructions. I give my dogs a little more leeway where I can when we are out bush. It took Raven a wee while to realize that we were properly stopped for the day and we could just chill. Even then when she was having a bit of a nosy around the hut she really didn’t like being out of eye-line of me and a simple “that’ll do” would have her turning back. By the time we were headed for home she had definitely learned that she is more comfortable in her jacket if it is persisting down. If I wanted her to go out for a potty break without it, she would sit, pout and refuse. I would get her jacket and she would do her happy wag, dance and throw her head into the neckline! ADNZ Ben would just stand in the rain until you advised him where to be or put his jacket on him. The whole reason we got the jacket was because Ben couldn’t figure out that he had to stand UNDERNEATH the tarpaulin (or roof) in order to stay dry. Once again thanks to FurtherFaster for keeping us dry!

A picture looking up a wilderness trail. Raven stands at the bottom of the frame. The trail transects the frame vertically with NZ native bush on either side.
Hurry up Antnz!

During the afternoon the clouds really built and then opened, which was expected and I actually really love the peace, quiet and “vibe” of being out bush when its wet. And it meant I did indeed have the hut to myself! I filmed a couple of quick videos, took a few shots, read a bit of my book and just chilled out. I am slowly editing the video from the trip and I will let you all know when this is posted on YouTube.

I slept pretty well, as I often do in the bush. At about 2am I am not sure if it was the possum on the roof or Raven’s low growl that woke me, that was followed by 3 “I’m a big brave dog” barks, a lot of scrabbling noises on the roof and I drifted off back to sleep.

I woke to a morning constant drizzle and showers. I just slowly packed up, swept the hut and started to head back towards civilization. Before I left I had been talking to MJ about the fact I had a bit of room at top of my pack. I was glad of this room in that kind of weather. I usually carry my camera gear in a bum bag, where is is more readily accessed. With the bad weather I wasn’t prepared to potentially have wet camera gear. I pack a dedicated “camera gear” dry bag which all my gear apart from my cell phone to get a few pictures on the way out. It turned out the room in the top of my pack was just the right size for my camera gear. Unfortunately this meant that I was carrying just as much on my back and when I went in, usually its a little lighter with the consumables gone!

I was making pretty good time, keeping an eye on my heart rate and I got to the bridge, had a snack and a drink and started the slog up and out of the valley. I was feeling ok, felt like I was getting a little bit wobbly but nothing too major. Then I noticed Raven turning to check on me more regularly, I checked my watch and my heart rate had gone a bit higher than ideal. I stopped to let my heart rate drop a bit, then my legs decided to have a bit of a dance party of spasms. I had a wee rest to let things settle a little then got the SideStix off my the side of my pack and started back up the hill. I have found in the past I have been caught out by “false ridges”; the “that is the top of this climb”, then when arriving you find you still have further to climb. This time the false ridge got me in reverse so it was a nice surprise to crest the hill and find the car!

A selfie of Antnz and Raven. Antnz is wearing a blue rain jacket and has wet hair. ADNZ Raven is in the bottom of frame wearing a red rain jacket and saddle bags. Antnz has a slight grimace on her face.
I swear we had fun!

I had left a set of dry clothes in the car because I knew the likelihood of getting wet was high, and I was thankful. I got Raven’s gear off, popped her and my gear in the car, got changed and started the drive home. On the way to Alice Nash I had followed the “How To Get There” route on the DoC website, I decided to try another route home that I had seen on the map to see if the drive time was better. I had decided that the DoC suggested route was the easier to drive, when I rounded a corner to find some smaller rockfall on the road, which I unfortunately I could not avoid.

Then my car started pulling left…. my first thought was “Dad was right about know when you get a puncture”. This had come from a conversation I had with Dad when I was learning to drive. “How do you know if you get a puncture while you are driving Dad?”, his response was “believe me you will know”. All the other punctures I have had have been a slow leak or obvious when I got to my car.

The top of a arched wooden bridge is in the middle of the image. Surrounding the bridge is NZ native bush
One of the Ruahine arched bridges. The signal the uphill begins!

I found a safe place to pull over to change the tire. I rang MJ with a “Hey hon, I’m ok, I’ve just got to change a tire, I should be home in about an hour”. Well, my first problem was getting the damn bolt undone to release the space saving spare. Then, a lot of swearing as I could not find the jack. I rang MJ back, and asked her to ring Dad and ask him to bring a jack out to me seeing as Mum and Dad live closer to where I was. My parents turned up, we got the car jacked up, I pulled of the tire, got the space-saver spare on, lowered the jack, and more swearing at the spare was flat. Dad has also bought a car stand with him, so we jacked up the car, left it on a stand, threw my tires into my parents vehicle. Went to Mum and Dad’s to use his air compressor to get some air in my tires. Dammit, his tire valve was not working, back in the vehicle to a “service station” that turned out not to have air hose. Then to my sisters as they have a portable compressor for the motorbikes; someone had misplaced the keys to the shed; thankfully my Father-In-law was home and we were able to call past his place and we got the right pressure into the space-saver, the puncture was a sidewall blow out so there was no way that tire was going to hold any air! So with one tire holding air Dad and I went back to my car, put the space saver on and I was good to go. 2.5 hours after my initial call to MJ I got home.

I ended up needing the Friday off my training session at Ora Kinetics; I had muscle spasms and cramps. I’m well used to having a few rough days after a trip so I was prepared for the usual types of pain and spasms that I get, what I had forgotten was that I have activated a whole heap of muscles that I’m not used to spasming and going a little jumpy! Compared to the 5-7 day downtime I usually need after a trip out, I was feeling mostly OK by day 4 so I’m totally taking that win!

An image of a track in NZ native bush. ADNZ Raven can be seen in the bottom of frame. The track transects the picture vertically
What do you keep stopping for??

I guess all in all the past few weeks both personally and getting out bush again has shown me once again that despite the pain and the rain, there will be relief in some form and the sun will again shine and light the way. We may have troubled times, however if we keep going and rally support around us we can achieve much more than we can by ourselves in the easy and the rough times.

He iti hau marangai e tū te pāhokahoka. Just like a rainbow after the storm, success follows failure. (Whakataukī: Māori Proverb.

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