Far More Useful than a Chocolate Teapot

When I first arrived at Howard’s Mountain Lodge, there was a grand total of three people here.

And I was one of them.

The other two were our boss and a dignified English woman who sort of intimidated me at first.

“Everything comes with a cup of tea.”

I shouldn’t have been in the slightest deterred.

I have often thought how lucky I’ve been to have had Rachel as my first coworker in my first job. Her enthusiastic spiels, knowledge of theater, love for Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Disney were always delightful. I gleaned new music, trivia, and films from her love for these arts. She sang and began to learn ukulele. She danced better than all of us and happily told stories of students she’d taught, concerts she’d attended, and places she loved.

I’ve watched her work hard and grow happier as we shared cookies, cups of tea, cooking duties, and nice walks. We hitchhiked together, singing along to “Life is a Highway” with our thumbs out. I was always thankful for the research she never failed to do on the locations we chose to visit. Basically she’s just absolutely bloody amazing.

And today she left.

I’m not quite sure how to properly express my disappointment at her absence. And I doubt I will figure out how to. But we will miss you, Rachel. You’ve left a print here at Howard’s Mountain Lodge. (Seriously. I’m going to be saying “can do,” “go on then,” and commenting on the improper geography of Harry Potter’s London routes for a very long while.)

We love you!

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I Called Shotgun

“SHOTGUN!”

I’ve watched a lot of people float through National Park. They come for the skiing in winter and the Tongariro Crossing in the summer. It’s a wee town. Nine streets. Maybe ten. Full of vacation homes and the small collection of people who hold this place closely.

The guests who catch my eye at Howard’s Mountain Lodge are the ones who choose to stay longer than two nights. What drew them here? What caught their eye or inspired a split second decision to choose the place I love?

“I don’t like staying in one place for only a few nights. I wanted to see what else is around here, besides the Crossing.”

If only more saw it that way.

Three lovely Germans happened to make their way into my world all due to a curiosity of a beautiful place and a love for Lord of the Rings. Having Mt. Doom at our doorstep helped.

Adam, Moritz, and Sören had known each other less than a week when their small blue car pulled into the lodge. As many of my favorite stories start, I offered them cookies.

I’m liking this whole “feed them” philosophy. The older generation really has it down in that area.

Anyways, I mentioned I was going to hitchhike to Whakapapa the next day and received an offer for a ride.

To be completely honest, I would have left a good 2.5 hours earlier than we did the next day, but as usual with such things, it was much better that I didn’t.

With smiles as big as my own, they followed trails and sought places for good photos. And we talked.

As all of my introvert friends know, extroverts can keep their mouths going for far longer than is necessary. It will please or horrify you to know that all four of us were able to keep up with the others, finding stories, comments, thoughts, exclamations, and jokes to fill the air with the whirling atmosphere of youthful adventures.

This is the first time since I left home that I have spent any long amount of time with people my own age. I’m understanding a bit more the feel of my age group. We are earnest in our search for life. Relishing, or perhaps wasting, our desire for beautiful things gone too fast or picture perfect bodies in Instagram worthy moments.

Most of us are not so stupid as to think it will last forever. I am just thankful I came across Adam, Moritz, and Soeren, three young men able to show me that the age I am is not defined by a drowning in the silliness of shallow addiction-driven experiences. It is the chance to grow wings after your cliff jump, back flipping and taking iPhone pics all the way down.

I’m not sure yet what the essence of youth may be, but if it is anything similar to what the last three days entailed, than I’m determined to live every moment of it.

To Soeren, Moritz, and Adam: Being young certainly isn’t everything, and I hope the transition to a different season isn’t painful for you, but in the meantime, keep being yourselves. The world holds many more burgers, free climbs, poses, photographers, sunsets, volcanoes, foggy evenings, beautiful hikes, starry skies, and interesting people.

But perhaps my favorite part of meeting you is

You already knew that.

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Perhaps the Greater

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“I can’t wait to do the Tongariro Crossing!”

“You girls want to go tomorrow?”

Yes.

The Tongariro Crossing is one of New Zealand’s Great Walks. You traverse volcanic fields to see sulfurous craters, ringed by snow streaked mountains. The Emerald Lakes sparkle against the dusty background as you slip and slide your way down loose rocks to meet them. One of my favorite parts was the mist that slunk across the ground to meet the opposite mountain peaks. It curled around us as we made our way up and over the last bit of high elevation before beginning our descent home towards the Blue Lake.

I was simply amazed throughout the entirety of the day. The contrast of the snow, the smell of sulfur, the fact that I was literally on Mt. Doom from Lord of the Rings, all of it took my breath away…along with the elevation and large amounts of uphill hiking. One of the later legs of the trip provided a kaleidoscope of golds, reddish browns, blues, and lichen greens along with a desperate desire to reach the next restroom because the last one was over four hours back. We joked and sang as we heaved ourselves over the next ridge. They cursed me under their breath when I ran up a hill because of how excited I was. We got geography lessons about how if you happen to find yourself in a pyroclastic flow, you’re f***ed. (High temperature, high speed death cloud of ash.) Those of us less geographically and geology inclined have taken a liking to Amy’s original phrase “I’ll igneous your rock.”

Off to watch Lord of the Rings. May the Force be with you.*

(All photos are unedited.)

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We hiked to and over the low point between snow capped Mt. Ngauruhoe to the right and the slopes of Tongariro to the left.
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Clouds best served with volcanic craters
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Up to Mt. Ngauruhoe
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Icy footsteps in snowy places
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Shaped by erosion’s hand
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If you placed your hand on the stones you could feel the volcano’s warmth.
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One of the Emerald Lakes
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My favorite part of the hike
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Blue Lake seductively revealed only a small portion of herself to us, hidden largely in the shroud of mist.
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Over the volcanoes and into the lands beyond.

 

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Lichen is the Earth’s way of bringing color to the grey surfaces of the world.
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“The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.” – The Fellowship of the Ring

*Definitely a Gandalf quote.