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March 2017 Issue
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Pack your bag, we’re leaving

Short track, long track, it doesn’t matter. Just go!. photo: Ricky French
When it comes to organising a family tramp, sometimes the dictatorial route is the way to go

They say the best laid plans can come unstuck. But for plans to come unstuck, first there must be plans. So does that follow that the best way to avoid catastrophe is to not plan? I’m sorry, it’s probably not the most elegant way to phrase my current conundrum, which is how to best go about planning a successful family tramp.

I swear, as the years pass it gets harder (but please don’t feel discouraged based on my problems!). I’ve always tramped with family that span generations and fitness levels. When I was a young boy it was always myself and my two uncles, aged in their 20s and 30s, and often my cousin, around my age. It was how I got into tramping, but what made it most fun wasn’t necessarily the tramping, but the fact my uncles, whom I considered the most fun people in the world, would take me away from normal life for a couple of days and on an adventure. I suspect we could have just as easily gone bike riding, or walked in endless circles round the block, or gone and watched a chess tournament. What made it special was being whisked away with them to another world, sometimes without warning.

Usually we would plan a tramp for the school holidays, but on one memorable occasion on a Friday evening after school, I got a phone call from my uncle saying they were going tramping that night, and they’d pick me up in half an hour. I still remember the excitement, the knowledge that I wouldn’t be watching TV in the living room, I’d be walking through the bush under torchlight with my uncles. I knew the drill. I threw my tramping gear into my pack, and waited with rapidly rising adrenalin, looking out the window and willing their car to arrive in the driveway.

Fast forward a couple of decades and I’m now the one organising the tramps, and I’m learning some hard truths. How my uncles pulled off a spontaneous tramp I’ll never know. I’m finding the organising of one summer tramp a logistical puzzle that hasn’t yet revealed a satisfactory solution.

In my defence, there are many parameters that need to be satisfied. This is the annual big one. And that means a large group with a wide age and ability range. First question: where to?

At first I thought I had the answer. We would go over the famous Tararua Peaks ladder to Maungahuka Hut. Many of us haven’t done it before, and none of us have seen the new hut. It’s exciting and a great challenge. Perhaps too great. Objections were lodged.

“It’s probably a bit too far and hard,” said one of my uncles. I said I thought the kids could make it – they’re coming into their tramping prime and would love the experience. My uncle clarified. “No, I mean for us elderly trampers.”

Ah. It was something I hadn’t thought of. As the kids get older and stronger and capable of more, the generations above get older and (generally) weaker. Not everyone, of course. And weaker probably isn’t the right word. But maybe less inclined to court needless hardship.

“These days,” my uncle said, “I like to walk slowly to a hut relatively nearby, enjoy good food and drink, and not move from there.”

It was a gauntlet thrown down. Organise a tramp exciting enough for the young and fearless, but easy enough for those wanting to protect their knees and bottles of wine. Throw in dates, weather, transport logistics, food, equipment….

Suggestions were put, and every suggestion had a niggle. Is there a fireplace? How would we do the car shuffle? That hut is too small. It always rains on that side of the range. I’ve been there before. That track’s too long. That track’s too short.

At the time of writing there is still no firm decision, which is shameful in a country so packed with options. Maybe that’s the problem: too many choices. Or could it be that a benevolent dictatorship is the way to go? I’m learning that the hardest part about tramping is not tramping. So I’m thinking my solution may be to call on my inner-Muldoon and call a snap-tramp. Get on the phone and say, “Pack your bags, we’re leaving in half an hour.”

And I bet you a family-pack dehydrated pasta meal that would work, too. Just make a decision and go. It doesn’t matter where, just go. Right now the kids are waiting for that call, and when it comes it’ll be the best feeling they’ll have all summer.