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October 2012 Issue
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Reluctant partners

Lollies, they work every time. Photo: Matthew Pike

How to lure your loved one into the outdoors… if they hate the outdoors!

“What’s the point? You spend three days walking through mud, rain and fog with a lead weight on your back, blisters on your feet and stinking of stale cheese. You force your way up hills that have been rightly avoided since civilisation began and stay in freezing huts with no shower or TV and you poo onto other people’s poo.”

I was hoping for a more positive response to the question: ‘Do you fancy going tramping this weekend?’ Like a woman who believes she can change her man from slob to new-age spring cleaner, I mistakenly thought that, little by little, I could transform my girlfriend Lauren into someone who’s either getting amongst it in the hills or eagerly studying maps for the next expedition.

Alas, eight years on and tramping fever hasn’t yet struck. I’ve never given up, just cocked up… many times. I’ve either pushed her too hard, allowed too little time, or ploughed on through the sort of weather to make a duck run for shelter.

But this time I was going to get it right. I saw the task as more of an experiment than an expedition and, if I was going to succeed, I had to do it properly. Time to recall everything I had learned about conducting experiments in year nine science class…

To give Lauren a tramping experience that she will not only enjoy, but will be inspired to do again.

Experience in this field has ranged from the disheartening to the soul destroying. Each tramp has resulted in one or more of the following issues:

  • Overexertion, leading to severe grumpiness
  • Mild dehydration, and headache
  • Hunger
  • Blisters on feet
  • Lack of toilet – she’s never taken to peeing au-naturel
  • Lack of shower (on multi-day tramps)
  • Boredom, brought on by dreary weather and landscape that doesn’t change or offer rewards. This also exacerbates weariness

However, there are positives to be gleaned from our mixed tramping experiences. Here are factors that have, at least temporarily, raised the spirits:

  • Woodland walks go down well, particularly when fantails and other podgy birds say hello
  • Fine views (with minimal effort)
  • Relaxation spots
  • Chocolate
  • More chocolate
  • Post-tramp treat (e.g. chocolate)
Rewarding views like this will encourage anyone to give tramping a try. Photo: Matthew Pike

Rewarding views like this will encourage anyone to give tramping a try. Photo: Matthew Pike

I’m going to take Lauren on a hike up Mount Robert in Nelson Lakes National Park. The car park is already at 800m altitude, meaning you start in alpine forest and soon achieve wonderful views over Lake Rotoiti without expending much energy.

We will head clockwise where the climb is not as severe. Once at Bushline Hut we’ll have a pleasant ridge walk followed by a quick descent to the car park.

It’s only a five-hour tramp, so not long enough for fatigue to set in. But with 700m ascent and a summit to conquer it should provide Lauren with the post-tramp satisfaction of a rewarding day’s hard work.

There are two toilets on route, a hut and two shelters to break things up.

We’ll only go if the forecast looks good, I’ll carry the bag and we’ll leave with plenty of time to spare so there’s absolutely no pressure to walk quickly.

I plan to reward Lauren at regular intervals with a treat. In much the same way as Pavlov programmed dogs to associate the sound of a bell with meal times, I plan to programme Lauren to associate tramping with chocolate.

The essentials checklist:

  • Treats – rocky road slab, chewy lollies and a packet of Timtams should do the trick
  • Lunch – plenty of sandwiches, fruit and scroggin mix (more than we’ll need, just in case)
  • Drink – four litres of water so we’ll never go short
  • Band aids and Vaseline to treat any unwanted rubbing
  • Extra layers to beat the cold
  • Spare change for post-tramp treat

Something is bound to go tits-up. Despite my attempts to eliminate all negative factors, something unexpected will rise to the surface to ensure the ride home will be conducted in silence.

Chocolate, chocolate and more chocolate. Photo: Matthew Pike

Chocolate, chocolate and more chocolate. Photo: Matthew Pike

With a Timtam sugar boost at the start line, the first 30 minutes were very much drama free. Lauren enjoyed the alpine forest and frequent views over Lake Rotoiti. But past experience has told me never to let my guard down and always observe the first signs of grumpiness.

This came shortly after we started to climb. Early symptoms were showing – the talking had stopped, as had the satisfied humming and she began to make noises of mild discomfort. I rate these signs as a volcanologist may rate an eruption alert level (with startlingly similar consequences). We were now at alert level 2, but fortunately an opening in the trees with a conveniently placed rock overlooking the lake offered the perfect resting spot. “Rocky Road break at that rock?” I asked. This was greeted with a smile and vigorous nod and we were back to alert level 1.

I continued this process throughout the climb. Soon, we were out of the trees and heading through golden tussock at an agreeable gradient. At a stop near a stream and a lone tree I could reveal that there were five more corners in the zigzag climb between here and the hut. Lauren counted them as we went. I miscounted – there were actually six. But the exercise had kept her mind focussed on something other than pain and we were soon relaxing at Bushline Hut on a glorious day, eating our lunch and peering out towards Richmond Forest Park and Tasman Bay. The climb was almost complete and we had a ridge walk to enjoy among patches of snow before a steep descent.

The ridge didn’t disappoint either, catching glimpses of the snow-capped peaks of Angelus Ridge to our left. Well-fed and knowing the uphill section was over, Lauren raced across to Relax Shelter, above which we could climb the rocks and admire a new view out west.

The final descent was far from gentle, though the sight of our van getting closer and closer was enough to dismiss any aches Lauren was experiencing and she finished with an expression of satisfied fatigue.

Ah, a tired, happy convert (?) to tramping. Photo: Matthew Pike

Ah, a tired, happy convert (?) to tramping. Photo: Matthew Pike

Relaxing over a Devonshire tea next to the fire in Tophouse hotel (post-tramp treat), Lauren rated her experience of the day:

Scenery 10/10
How interesting was the walk? 8/10
How ache and pain-free was it? 7/10
How does the body feel now? 8/10
Overall enjoyment 9/10
Would you do another similar trip? Yes

Results suggest resounding success and significant improvement on previous outings. This could be the base from which we attempt slightly longer or tougher excursions staying overnight in huts. I need to be careful not to take too big a leap forward with the next tramp. There’s still the risk that a bad experience may put her off for years to come. There’s also the possibility that the positive ratings were merely a result of the constant supply of treats and nothing to do with the tramp itself. But if that’s what it takes to lure her into my world, it’ll be worth every cent.