With new rubber on the road and a map of the local hiking trails (or tramping as they say here), I was out driving down the back roads around Wanaka, New Zealand. Long ago I had abandoned any shred of caution and fully embraced the philosophy “slow is for pansies,” careening down loose gravel like someone just kicked out of anger management. It’s just that seeing a plume of dust rise like an army is marching behind you is way too cool not to do.
This time, however, my mindset was put to the test as my elderly Subaru violently vacillated along a road with hard dirt undulations shaped like little speed bumps. Everything in the car shuddered as if it was being assaulted with jackhammers, and I wouldn’t have been surprised if my brain suffered some mild concussive damage. Any moment I expected a little white flag to pop out from the front console as the car’s engine wheezed and the vehicle slowly ground to a stop.
At home, I would never drive my car with such reckless abandon, but it seemed this was the Kiwi way, an infectious way of operating your auto that most people who come to New Zealand seem to pick up. Most everyone I’ve had the chance to be a passenger to seems to attack the road with such brutality it’s amazing anyone makes it out alive.
Soon I saw a small yellow and green Department of Conservation (DOC) sign and pulled into the trail’s car park. I got out, hitched up my socks, and started into the trail. All I can say about my hike is that it was fantastically beautiful and had more elevation than I had expected—a lot more—and I was soon sloughing along loose scree up the side of a mountain, gasping like a gutted fish. And somewhere along the way I plowed through some nameless, bountiful bitch of a shrub that encroached on the path; it soon drew itchy red lines on my legs and made the rest of the journey just awful.
Near the end of my hiking loop, I planned to stop and have breakfast on a comfortable rock next to a babbling brook I had noticed before beginning my hike. The plan was flawed from the start because rocks are inherently not comfortable, and therefore terrible objects to sit on.
The ivy—or whatever foul substance it was—had drastically changed my plans, and I was only keen to rid myself of the itch. I dashed into the stream, and I was in the water with my pants rolled up, frantically trying to rub the itch off my skin when I felt a sharp prick on my upper leg. Looking down, I saw a little black spot, which upon further inspection was a small fly doing its best to dig all of the way through my leg with his teeth. With a quick slap, he dropped off into the river—dead. Man beats nature again.
Then another jab in my arm. I tried to blow this one off but the fly was an aerodynamic little bastard and used its teeth as an evolutionary-adapted anchoring device. Slap. Another down.
Very soon though, I realized I was in a maelstrom of strategy as fly after fly dive-bombed me and affixed itself to various parts of my unprotected skin. Yelping, I leaped out of the stream barefoot, desperately grabbing my scattered pack, shoes, and socks. With swiftness rivaling an elf, I got to my Subaru and fumbled for my keys, unlocking the door and jettisoning my collected things into the backseat.
The engine grumbled to life, and I jammed the clutch, punched the accelerator, and careened the car out of the car park. Opening the door, however, I had accepted a cloud of pissed-off flies into the interior, which continued to bite, claw, and mutilate my already fragile skin. I cursed and flailed at them with one hand while I scratched the burning red marks with the other. In retrospect, I’m not sure I steered.
My Subaru rattled down the road, and the breeze whipped in the windows. The day was still the epitome of summer, the air now starting to become heavier as the sun gained strength. The dust rose, and sheep munched disconsolately in their pasture. Cows looked dumbly at my car as I roared past.
It was all very lost on me, the evil flies chomping bits off my Romantic picture of nature with every spiteful red bite. I was mired in a pool of cooling sweat, exhausted after only a couple of hours outside. My eyes were now set to the comforts of civilization—a warm shower, tea, and a book to read under a roof—and I could think of little else. Sometimes there is nothing better than being outside; sometimes I would pay anything to escape.
Ben Rietema (’14) lives in Wanaka, New Zealand at the moment. Besides staring at and running in mountains, he makes a wicked hospital corner and can clean a bathroom like Gandhi (if he were a housekeeper) at his job at a local lodge. He also enjoys saying “HOUSEKEEPING” in the highest pitch voice he can muster before entering a room to service it. benrietema.wordpress.com/