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November 2019 Issue
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Mixing music with miles

Photo: Mickey and Michelle

Harp and fiddle duo Mickey O’Donnell and Michelle Doyle are walking the Te Araroa Trail to promote their new album by playing gigs along the route and raising money for osteoporosis research. It’s a personal campaign for Doyle, a Kiwi harpist who was diagnosed with the disease at 24.

Why did you feel the TA was a good fit for the album release?
Michelle: Honestly, it’s not! This is by far the most ambitious thing we’ve ever organised. We really wanted to combine our passions of music and tramping, and the album was a way to make it more financially feasible for us. We really love performing in smaller rural locations as the crowds are always so warm, responsive and hospitable. Te Araroa eschews New Zealand’s major cities in favour of some really scenic towns which means we get to perform in all the nooks and crannies that would get overlooked on your average tour.

What tramping experience do you both have?
Mickey: Michelle started multi-day tramping five years ago. In 2017, she completed the Australian Alps Walking Track (AAWT) from Victoria to Canberra in six weeks. I joined for the last 200km. It was my very first overnight tramp, although I had no idea what I was doing, I fell head over heels for it and since then we’ve completed the Larapinta in Alice Springs, K2K in the Blue Mountains and some other sections
of the AAWT.

Most trampers on the TA don’t have gigs they need to attend – how have you planned to ensure you make it in time to each concert?
Michelle: We have been planning this for about a year now and one of the first steps we took was mapping out the trail notes and co-ordinating it with potential gigs. We always allow a few days leeway before each performance and we try to perform a few gigs in a row, so it doesn’t break up our tramping time too much.

If we are getting bogged down by weather, we’re not above a little hitching to make our performance.

How did the idea come about?
Michelle: The seed was planted while we were on the Larapinta after meeting two trampers who had completed the TA. At first, Mickey didn’t want to do the whole six months because he’d miss being away from music for so long. I was prepared to complete the TA by myself, but after a practise solo tramp, I woke up at 2am freezing in the snow with an epiphany – if we included music in the tramp maybe Mickey would want to join for the whole six months and I could steal some body heat.

Michelle, could you expand on life with osteoporosis, and how it affects your tramping?
Michelle: I was diagnosed with osteoporosis five years ago at 24. It’s a ‘silent’ disease so unless you experience a fracture there are no symptoms, therefore it affects me more mentally than physically. Knowing that my bones are fragile and could break more easily than someone else my age is mentally taxing, especially as I’m a very active person. Over the past five years, I’ve increased my bone density through diet and exercise – now I technically have osteopenia (a milder form of osteoporosis), which is encouraging. Tramping is actually good for bone-building as it is a weight-bearing exercise. However, I have developed two stress fractures in the past from overdoing my tramping. I’m hopeful that this won’t happen on the TA as my bones are a little stronger now and I think I know my body’s limits better.

Have you been training?
Mickey: Ideally, we would train by tramping but the album’s writing and recording process took up so much time we couldn’t justify getting away for very long. Instead, we were down at the park every other day doing plyometrics (rapid strength-based exercise) to work on our core and legs. Plyometric exercise is also recommended to build bone density.

New Zealand tour dates

November 1: Raglan, Old School Arts Centre

November 3: Tauranga, Jam Factory

December 8: Palmerston North, Cafe Royale

December 10: Palmerston North, Palmerston House

December 29: Dunedin, Whare Flat Folk Festival

January 3: Christchurch, Further Faster store performance and talk

January 4: Christchurch, Wunderbar

January 11: Petone, Wellington Bluegrass Society

January 15: Onekaka, The Mussell Inn

January 17: Motueka, Toad Hall

January 18: Motueka, Chanel Centre

February 29: Methven, Mt Hutt Function Centre

March 20: Wanaka, Bar No. 8

March 29: Queenstown, Sherwood Concert w/Choice Music

April 18: Invercargill, Southland Musicians Club

April 26: Dunedin, Dunedin Folk Club