Within the first hour of walking we reached the first hill. The climb was around the height of the highest hill we had climbed during the entire 1000km trip in the Bibbulmun Track. Welcome to the Appalachian Trail. During the first week we have had climb after climb after climb like that one we had in the first hour and it will be that way till the end!
We had caught a taxi from the train to the junction where we had gotten off the trail in 2000. While we were sorting out our packs we met our first hikers. A husband and wife with a teenage son that were doing a 50 day 'section hike'. They had been doing this for a few years now, moving slowly "around 1 mile an hour" said Whisper, the mother (or wife) They picked up we were kiwis straight away and announced that all Americans were arseholes... Strange conversation to be having with the first hikers we met and we hadn't even taken a step on the trail yet.
What a great day we had. We were back on the trail that had changed our outlook on life 16 years ago. It was the first day of summer and the weather was excellent. No clouds and hot but a nice breeze to keep us cool.
To put you in the frame, the Appalachian mountains run from Florida right up into Canada. (This trail starts in Georgia and stops in Maine.) The mountains are a result of uplift that has long since stopped and over the last few ice ages, the mountains have been warn down by glaciers and erosion so most of it is just rolling hills now. The trail is 1550 miles long and 98% is through forest and park lands. The trail is classed as a 'national scenic pathway' and receives federal funding for upkeep and new land purchases if required. It's very popular and over 1,000,000 people walk on some part of this trail each year with several thousand starting a 'thru hike' from end to end each year also. In 2000 we made it from Georgia to Connecticut, 1550 miles or 3/4 of the trail so only have a small section of around 600 miles to finish.
So, what's the trail like? It's hard actually. From the time we started it has been hill after hill never ending. We climb right to the top and then right back down to the valley floor again only to be looking at another hill in front of you. It's hot too, middle of summer and did I mention the bugs?? They have 'skeeters' (that's mountain talk for mosquitoes) by the billions and they want your blood bad. We can walk about 2 miles per hour, they can fly at 1.85 miles per hour which is all good until we have to go up a darn hill (Can't do 2mph up hills...) they do however have other nice cute things along the trail. Squirrels and chipmunks are everywhere and are a constant distraction at the moment as they bound around near the trail. We have also seen plenty of frogs and toads, snakes, eagles,woodpeckers and a raccoon and we may have had a bear sniffing around the tent while we slept. Fireflies are pretty cool too. They really do glow like a flying LED light especially when you bother or trap them. The biggest change we have noticed though is the people.. lots and lots of people. About 3 x more people thru hike than from our year and at this time of year a lot of people are on vacation hiking a section of the trail. The class of 2016 thru hikers all look strong and light (and young...) as they zoom past us... maybe we looked like that 16 years ago? Although lots of people are now on the trail, we managed to avoid them when we practiced the mid summer tradition of nude hiking on the summer solstice... It's a'thing' so we had to do it OK!!
So as we finish day 7, I am slowly starting to get used to the daily exhaustion and now have a little bit of energy left to write this blog.. I was considering a video blog cause I didn't have the energy to sit up and type on this little screen but here it is. The first week of our America adventure that will see us complete the Appalachian Trail.
We are finally on the train out of NYC. It was 17 minutes late which is not too uncommon as we understand. NYC has been a polarizing experience. On one hand it is the centre of the western universe and on the other it's the complete end of the earth. We saw both ends.
We didn't actually stay in NYC but could just about see it from where we stayed. We had an Airbnb in the old neighborhood in New Jersey just across the Hudson River in a suburb called West New York. We met with the owners daughter, Patsy. Her mum had a knee operation and couldn't handle the stairs any more but was obviously not wanting to sell just yet. You could tell the house had been in the family for many years. It was a sort of cool place but dated. I did feel like I was in an American sitcom or movie set. I have seen so many of these 'brown stones' but never been in one until now. The neighborhood was a mix of Cuban Mexican and other Latino cultures. No one spoke English on the streets but I am sure they could. I was keen to chat to people but we must have looked too white as people didn't even make eye contact when we passed them on the street.
It was a 15 minute bus ride into the port authority bus station in NYC and from there we could connect to the subway and the rest of the city. So much has changed in NYC from our last visit, but the subway is not one of those things. If I were to comparing the New York subway to others we have been on in Japan, Asia and Europe I would have to say it's pretty crappy... It might be because everything is tiled in white resembling a giant dirty public toilet or it could just be that it's pretty much covered in litter but I think the real reason is just because it's really old (and by default, shitty) Having said that it still works and gets you where you need to go somewhat on time.
We rode the subway to near where we wanted to go to and did a bit of shopping here and there. We walked the length of Central Park on Sunday which was Father's Day here in the USA. It was busy with open air concerts and lots and lots of dads out with children everywhere. The park is nice and very well maintained but it looks like it is getting loved to death with a lot of areas roped off for regeneration. Over 8,500,000 people live in New York City. If only a small number of them used the park it would still be a big number. We also visited some of the nicer areas of the city and were able to see the 'beautiful people' walking around in the designer clothing. For the young ladies, yoga paints seam to be the clothing item of choice although I didn't notice a gym on every street corner...
We tried to find a reason we would want to live in New York as we were wondering around. We get it that some people get sent there to work or go there as a stepping stone in work opportunities but really to go willingly seems a bit strange. Sure it has 'everything' and never sleeps, but at what cost. As we walked past the mansions bordering Central Park I couldn't help but feel they were more like prisons than houses. I looked at the real estate app to see the row of brown stone houses worth between 15 and 25 million dollars but right outside the front door was trash blowing along the street and a constant echo of cabs tooting horns. I think I could do better if I had the options these people obviously have. But, New York is New York. At one time it was a beautiful place and to a small group of still is. To most I am sure it is a means to an end.
So, the train being late was just a New York minute really and we lived it like everyone around us. Gave me an opportunity to write this though!
As we drove from the airport back to Alphas house the temperature gauge in the car showed 94 degrees. Oh you’re so lucky with the weather, we are told. Last week we had some really hot days! Welcome to the desert. The sky was perfectly clear but off in the horizon we could see the result of the dust in the air making the sky glow a nice orange colour. The airport is right next to the Vegas strip. Not the place you would think to build an airport but there it is, dividing the city and giving the perfect view for the millions of tourists that come to Vegas every year as they land. Most don’t get more than a few miles from the airport for the entire time they are here. It’s not the first time we have been here, and won’t be the last. We love to visit Alpha and Lawrence. This visit was to be more special than others as Lennoxx, their son turned 13 while we were in town so we got to share in the celebrations. The flight in was more than 25 hours and when we arrived we were running on adrenaline only. It kept us going for a while but we had to have a rest mid-day before we went out for a concert and dinner at the ‘local’ casino.
Alpha has a beautiful house in Henderson, a sprawling suburb (city) to the east of the Vegas strip. Las Vegas has had hard times and good. It’s hard to know how it’s doing now but near everywhere we looked we could see new construction. That isn’t saying the places are selling though but often construction is an indicator of the economy. Just like Perth, Vegas has plenty of land for building, unlike Perth, Vegas has no public transport to speak of, no light rail and we didn’t see to many busses on the roads. The full time population of Las Vegas is only 580,000, from the 2015 figures. The same year, 42,000,000 people visited Vegas… wow. That’s a lot of food, water and power and services to provide. The roads are up to the usual USA standards and have been built for growth. The entire time we have been here we have not seen any major congestion or hold ups. We’ve been very lucky to have the use of Alphas Chevy SUV during our stay. It’s not the first time I have driven a left hand drive car but the first few minutes are always a little scary. Christine is great with this process and will give directions to me starting with ’keeping to the right, we need to turn left here…keeping right, looking left’ Thankfully they are not big on roundabouts here and the roads are wide and well-marked and often have a divider in the middle.
We spent a few days getting used to the new time zone. We were waking up at 2 and 3 in the morning (local time) feeling hungry and wanting to sleep really bad in the middle of the day. We resisted having afternoon naps to try to speed up this process, but the big reminder of the new time zones is feeding times. We woke up at 3am on our second night feeling very hungry and couldn’t get back to sleep without having something to eat. Christine sent me down stars to get a midnight snack so without making too much noise, I sneaked to the fridge. Hmmm, not too much on offer. I ended up with a couple of sandwiches and some jerky which we happily had back in bed and went straight back to sleep. A nice snack! A few days later when Christine was making dinner for the family, she discovered the jerky we had was actually dog food, all be it gourmet dog food, but dog food non the less. We both agreed that it was still pretty good though and a first for us both.
Other than dog food, the food here is amazing! I have counted 5 rather large supermarket chains here in Vegas. Not sure if they are national or just in Nevada but it’s a far cry from the 2 brands they have in New Zealand. This means competition and with that comes low prices and good quality. We have been able to buy all sorts of fresh fruit and veggies, but the thing that’s stands out is the price of meat. We bought some chicken, 3 large breasts (organic what’s more) for under $5US. I was looking at scotch fillet, around half a kg for around $5 as well. Eating out is very cheap too. We have eaten at Panda Express a couple of times, it’s a Chinese food chain that has much the same sort of Chinese food as we see in NZ. We can get a large meal full of veggies for $7 each. A far cry from Australia where we completely blew our budget due to the cost of food. We were often spending $50 AUD on a café lunch of 2 burgers and a soft drink each and although nice we felt like we were being ripped off somewhat. Here a larger, nicer lunch will not even be $25US. In fact we had a buffet dinner at a top quality casino on the strip for under $50USD and we could have sat and eaten all night if we had wanted…
I guess that brings me to the cost of other things, hiking gear! We looked at a lot of gear in New Zealand and Australia and although tempted, we held off until we got here. We’re glad we did! I replaced my hiking boots for $110USD with exactly the same boots I bought in New Zealand for $260NZD. We bought a new tent for $560USD. The tent is not even offered in New Zealand but would be around $900NZD if it was. (Its $780AUD.) I could go on. I know New Zealand and Australia are some distance away but freight only adds a small amount to the price. Is it GST and other taxes? Who knows. The annoying thing is we can no longer buy a lot of these things on line. We get blocked to protest the local distributors in NZ. So we went to the local REI store and spent heaps of money on lots of cheap things and we are now good for another 15 years of hiking…
Next stop is New York. Well, we are staying in New Jersey and to be more confusing a place called West New York in New Jersey. We are on a ‘red eye’ flight. First to Chicago then another ‘red eye to New York. 2 red eyes.... We are keeping up our tradition of not doing things by half’s.
Thanks heaps to Alpha and Lawrence for the use of your house and car. You are amazing hosts and one day we hope to repay your hospitality somewhere nice!
Sleep is almost impossible no matter what you tell yourself before the flight. Even though we have done it all before there are so many things to look at and do, then their are the meal. Is it the fear of missing out? Air travel is ultimately just like catching a really big bus except 1000 times more expensive. Would you eat food that was served up on the bus you caught to work if it was offered? Sitting here I imagine bus food would be some sort of curry for some reason. On the flight between Perth and Melbourne it was a hotdog. More bus food than plane food. I watched a couple of episodes of Flight of the Concords. So simple yet so funny. Just like a hotdog on an expensive bus trip! (I was wrong when I said Virgin Australia in a past blog. We are flying on Qantas both flights. We were going to book Virgin but Qantas came in cheaper at the last moment..)
Just getting to this flight was an exercise! Although we are booked all the way to Las Vegas we departed from the domestic terminal. We have backpacks and like to have them shrink wrapped to avoid damage and the only place we can do that is the international terminal... It's a 15 minute shuttle ride away. Then on the way back we got on the long term car park bus and did a lap of the car parks and back to where we had come from instead of the domestic terminal. As we bought new sleeping bags and wanted to claim the GST back we had to repackage our bags because they will want to see them... We have 2 large sleeping bags in our carry on luggage because they won't process the claim until we are departing the country....that's in Melbourne not Perth. We also forgot about the dateline and had our friend in Vegas ready to collect us 24 hours early.
Anyway, we're on the big flying bus on the way to the US and nothing can stop us now! I can still remember my first international flight well. It was to Perth! Better yet, I can remember my first flight anywhere. I remember saying to Dad that I could see the toy cars and houses out of the window. It's funny the things that stick in your memory seemingly forever. Air travel is an event that feels so impossible it's something that's hard to forget. Having said that, I don't remember them all! I am however old enough to remember when smoking was permitted on flights, and when you could drink unlimited alcoholic drinks. Both of those activities are really a recipe for disaster and it's no wonder the party is over. I guess the only thing left is the mile high club, and I'm told that's never going to happen.. So it's more and more like a really long bus trip to work every time I fly now days. That is until we started the next leg, Melbourne to Los Angeles. We were on an Airbus A300-800. The new giant double decker jobs. Maybe not brand new but everything looked newish enough to believe it was brand new. It was a bit more exciting. A like being in a new car for the first time. You get pretty keen to look around and the excitement comes back to it all a bit. This time we really got lucky with our seats too. At first we didn't think so though. We looked at the on line booking info and compared it to 'seat guru' and oh no, we are at the very last row up against a bulkhead with a big galley/kitchen behind us. On a trip from Frankfurt to Tokyo we had similar seats and it was hell. We couldn't recline the seats and had a terrible flight. We tried to call the airline to see if we could change the seats... The polite recorded voice at the Qantas call centre said we were in a queue and they expected to be able to answer our call in 60 minutes.. Oh well, that's that we thought. Christine did some more checking and found some information on the Trip Adviser web site about the seats that said they were actually really good. It turns out seat guru will say any seat against a bulkhead is bad by default. Trip Adviser was right, they were good seats and the meal was pretty good as well. More like a flying 'lounging restaurant' than the bus type affair we dealt with earlier that day. The area at the very back of the plane where we were seated took me a while to understand because it is only 5 rows of economy seats with the remainder of the top deck being business and premium economy. So this little bit of standard economy is the buffer so the expensive seats don't have to deal with the galley noise. I'm pretty sure that's the only reason it's there! It was good. Fast meal service, no queue for the toilet and we were able to enter and exit the plane with the business class travelers. But perhaps best of all, the staff that looked after our small area were the business class staff. We really did feel like we got better than normal service. Maybe this is just the new Qantas? We also had a full on movie marathon... That's right, exhausted from maybe 2 or at best 3 hours of sleep over 26 hours of travel but glued to the little screen the entire way. I watched Deadpool, Wild (both great) and Ted 2 and some more TV shows and Christine watched The Shawshank Redemption, Wild, Spotlight, The Theory Of Everything and some of Deadpool.
Los Angeles airport or LAX is a very, very busy place, and we arrived early in the morning! People everywhere, all the shops and bars were open and busy. We had some trouble finding our Las Vegas flight but made it to Vegas with no incident. We were collected from the airport by our friend Alpha and after a 2 hour nap at her house, we headed straight to the 'local' casino for a buffet dinner... WELCOME TO VEGAS BABY. The city that doesn't sleep has 2 new visitors and we are fitting in just fine.
Just outside of Bridgetown the bus broke down. We were a bit surprised that the driver let us all out on the side of the highway, but seeing as it had started to fill with smoke, I felt better on the outside. It was a nice sunny day so we just lounged around on the grass verge watching unsuspecting drivers come around the blind corner to see a bus with its load spilled out on the roadside! After a while a new bus collected us and we finished the trip. Paul was our next driver and met us on the side of the road in a small country town. We got in and he started driving, and driving and driving. The road went from highway to back road then to unsealed back road and then a 1 lane unsealed road to a track until it just stopped at a gate. 'We're here' said Paul. It was the end of the road that's for sure. I guess we were 'here' in that respect. Paul lives on an organic farm. It has fruit and nut trees, many of which he is still learning what fruit or nut they produce. It's a bit run down. The owner has a day job and has neglected the 40 acres of land for a few years, that is evident in the broken fences and out of control trees needing a pruning. Other than that it's a paradise waiting on a new lease of life. I think Paul can give it a go as the sort of live-in caretaker. It would be good if the hippies in the second house on the property admitted to themselves they are out of place and packed up the Combi van and moved back to town. They would however take the lovely chickens, an alpaca, and the tame sheep so that might change the place for the worse. It's an organic fruit and nut farm, not an animal farm. During our stay the most lovely wee kitten ended up in the garage. Sad, but it was a perfectly healthy kitten that had somehow ended up at the end of the road...the farm owner loves cats but not on her farm. The kitten will be de-sexed, treated, wormed and have all that's necessary and sent to be adopted all at her expense. The kitten really had some luck finding this farm! We wanted to keep it really bad but... we're on holiday!
I have never been on a farm like this, it's organic. Paul is making a veggie patch and this involves removing the grass and turning over the soil. I would have used Roundup or similar for the grass, but not here. No chemicals allowed! This turns a 15 minute job of mixing up a batch of death to grass into a weeks long effort of digging and sifting out grass roots (all along knowing extensive weeding will be required). I can really see the benefit of the modern chemical way. I do also see the attraction of chemical free growing. I feel pretty normal and I have led a life of eating what has been grown using chemical sprays. I don't wash my fruit either... I guess all to their own and maybe they are right and it's all a disaster waiting to happen. The fruit we tried sure did taste good though and I am sure the veggies will as well as long as Paul can keep the slugs and pigs off his patch. Oh that's the other thing. Wild pigs just love the nut trees, especially as the nuts are seldom collected but the owner has a live and let live policy, so it's live and let live even if they are eating all your hard work in the night. Myself, I would be happy with sprayed veg along side my home killed wild pork any day. I also had my eyes on the large dam that is filled with tiny little fresh water lobster called Yabbies.. I think we can manage a small feed if we are quick? Hmmm not in season but it was fun to play around at the dam anyway.
Part of having an organic nut farm is extracting the nuts from the shell in a suitably organic way... by hand. The walnuts aren't too hard but the macadamia nuts are a different story. I was surprised at how thick the inner shell is. They start with a woody outer casing that needs to be dried to be removed. Then it's a brown nut. Very round like a marble and really hard. Too hard for me to open with pliers, a special cracker is required. Then it's getting them out whole! A split nut is not worth as much as an intact nut. And organic anything is twice the price as its really lucky to have missed all the things trying to eat and kill it along the way to the table.. Are you starting to see the pattern? Maybe why I avoid the organic section at the supermarket.
During the stay we spent most of our time around the fire. Paul has a Webber style fire that sprang into action around 3:45pm. It was great to cook food on and the roasted veg was excellent, especially with a knob of butter in the foil packet! Yum yum. Roasted macadamia nuts are an excellent snack too. It was a really great to stay with Paul again. The kiwi invasion part 2 was a complete success.
Our next stop is Natasha's place. Much closer to the city, wifi and CATS. Yes plural so plenty to go around! Less than 10 minutes walk from the main Perth train line, her place rocks. Greeted with roast lamb dinner, beer and cats meant we felt right at home straight away. It's going to be hard to say goodbye to Western Australia, and Natasha who bakes cakes, (amazing cakes actually..)
Lots has changed from when we lived here. Perth is about the complete opposite to how things are in Auckland right now. Everywhere we look we see cheap houses for sale. Not too cheap looking either! Of course these homes are not in the central area or desirable suburbs but nether are the cheaper homes in Auckland. The big difference is the amount of low cost new homes available. Australia has space for this and, surprise surprise, the public transport system is already in place for the new land release! It is however something I have written about in previous blogs, real estate is slow at the moment. Prices are down and a lot of sellers cannot get what they paid for the home a few years back. Mind you, the idea of making a large profit on selling homes is a fairy new idea, it's an even newer idea to make that large profit in just a few years or months. While I'm on the subject of things that bother the Aussies, they will soon be losing most of their car manufacturing. Ford, General Motors and Toyota are all pulling out of Aussie and will now supply new imported vehicles. These manufactures now say they will provide more models and options including quality used cars. No doubt these will come from Japan (being right hand drive) and will mean less choice and higher prices for New Zealand used import car buyers! I think that after a while the average Aussie will wonder why they didn't get rid of the car building industry earlier. Instead of the government giving them billions to keep the production lines open, they can build nice roads and schools with the extra cash. Food however is somewhat more expensive than New Zealand. A normal cafe lunch of a couple of burgers and 2 cans of coke will be around $50 bucks, about $20 more than we would expect to pay in NZ. We haven't bought much meat, but when we have looked for it we have ended up buying sausages because of the price..
In a few days we will be heading to Las Vegas via Melbourne. No stopover, just a long flight and via an airline we have not traveled on before, Virgin Australia. We have a week to recover in Vegas and will be able to spend that time wisely by catching up on the USA elections from our cabana at the Mandalay Bay casino....
it's Our Epic Trip...
David & Christine are from New Zealand and are embarking on a trip around the world the slow way, on foot and by personal vehicle. This could get interesting!