Suggestions to the TA Trust

•21 March 2019 • Leave a Comment

The following is from an email I sent to the Te Araroa Trust. The rest of the email was me saying THANK YOU. Here’s the other part.

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Here are a few suggestions I’ve thought of, on how to make the TA even better. But please know that the Trail is truly smashing and these are just little ideas to make it smash the harder. I hope they help – if not, ignore ’em!

– I’d make Spirits Bay to Cape Reinga a semi-official ‘approach trail’ like the AT has. It’s a great hike, a great warmup, and easier to escape than 90 Mile if things go pearshaped.

-Due to the forest closures, it would be amazing if there was a recommended bike hire between Ahipara (or at least Kaitaia) and Kerikeri.

-…the same goes TENFOLD for Whanganui to Palmy.
-Was Pirongia always a horrid mud bath? Like before the TA really took off? I’m genuinely curious. But… no kidding, right now it is like goddam vertical Passchendaele. Not sure if trail maintenance (water bars) would help, but I’d try anything. It was miserable.

-the Round The Mountain track at Ruapehu was one of my favorite hikes *ever*. Most of my fellow thru-trampers did it. I’d really consider making it an official part of the TA.

 I know it’s complicated with the Great Walk there, but A) we do or intersect several other great walks (the river, Queen C), and B) we already have several spots on the Trail where we have to do 20-30 ks without a possible camp spot. Having one more wouldn’t be hard. Hell, I did the entire Northern Circuit in 7 hours fully loaded – wouldn’t have stopped at a hut even if I could have!

-several people got chased out of the bull paddocks after Waitomo. Bulls were ornery in December. We bushwhacked around them, hopping several fences to do so.

-the section after Te Kuiti was incredibly dangerous after a rain. I know several people who slipped more than two meters down the hillside. I fell 5 or 6 meters when the entire trail collapsed beneath me. Had to self arrest. I am honestly surprised i was not seriously injured. MANY trampers call it the most dangerous part of the trail. Without significant improvement, please – I beg you – cut it from the Trail.

-it would be incredible if there was a rain tank or two along the mountainbike path at the end of the Richmonds. That was *not* an ideal spot for a 5 hour water carry ;)

-i know the “accuracy” of DOC estimates varies greatly from tramper to tramper, but I think the estimate of Top Wairaki to the north end of Mt Linton Station is a typo. It says 8 hours. Trampers are averaging 2.

-the ridge walk above Stag Saddle should be the official route, with the TA high point adjusted accordingly. The current descent should be the bad weather option, not the official trail. Not the least because… that’s how everyone does it.

-the Rangitata Hazard Zone should end at Mt Sunday (Edoras). It’s a fantastic spot… a super easy hitch out… there’s a lodge along the way… and it would be a great place to put up an info sign about the TA and educate folks.

– I’d also love a TA info sign at the start of the Tongariro Crossing. Maybe then people would have a clue about why we were there, swimming against the current of humanity :)

– since in daydreaming, I’d also love such a sign on the southern side of Hakarimata, on Kaukau over Wellie, at Ship Cove, at Pelorus Bridge, at Blue Lake hut, at the Greenstone/Caples start, at the Mavora Lakes campground, and ideally as a photo op in downtown Wanaka and Queenstown. You know, where pretty people can see us posing!

– it would be great if the TA shop sold plain orange triangles, and also plain orange triangle patches. As with the white blazes on the AT, these are really our symbols, in a way.

– is the TA facebook page official? Because it’s run by a moderator who everyone thinks is horrible. Ive never used the page because it sounds so terrible. Literally most trampers tell Judith jokes. With, like, *incredible* frequency.

– I’d love it if there was something like Trail Days for the TA, where people could hitch ahead or back to meet up for a day of meeting, partying, and ideally getting to meet vendors. Daydreaming now, I’d have two: a North Island meetup in Hamilton on the first Tuesday in December, and a South Island meetup in maybe Tekapo or TwiVegas on the first Tuesday in February. That way, south and north islanders could get a day, and nobos and sobos as well.

– I’d love it if Trail Notes mentioned morevsuggested side hikes. Even full- or multi-day hikes like the Ruapehu circuit.

– I’d LOVE it if trailnotes mentioned huts that were off trail but nearby. Especially for those who want to zero and don’t want to take up a TA bunk when they do it.

– please mention in Trailnotes that the Lake Coleridge Hotel sells soft drinks and beer, all day :-)
[…]

-Silver

TA Class of 2018-19

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Bluff

•19 March 2019 • Leave a Comment

I have thru-hiked Te Araroa – from Cape Reinga to Bluff – the length of New Zealand – 3000km – 4 months – tama tu, tama ora; tama noho, tama mate kai – hikertrash for life.

Longest day: 15h45 (Mt Crawford traverse in the Tararuas).

Shortest day: that zero I took at Upper Wairoa Hut to finish reading Hero Of Ages #savageas

Worst days: Mt. Pirongia a.k.a. The Vertical Somme; dealing with Little Laddie Loathsome; TE KUITI.

Best days: wild horses at Twilight Beach; the oceanside sheepfolds of Northland; ferns on the Morepork; the sunrise from Helena Bay; crossing the Ngunguru; the pies of Rangiriri; double maras on the Timber Trail; the ever-lovin’ pirates of the ruddy Whanganui; my dear Manuka-Bogans; going Round The Mountain; Mt. Doom stargazing; Christmas G&Ts; The Longest Day in the Tararuas; Kaukau and The Sea, The Sea; posting chicken-sentries on the Queen Charlotte; every single inch and minute of the Richmond Range; Lake Constance, riding the scree; the fireplace at Deception; the stars over Tekapo Dark Sky; coming off Breast Hill and jumping right into Lake Hawea; venison and Laphroaig in Wanaka; utes and wild boar on the Mavora; oysters and Felton Road in Bluff; finishing with tramily.

Thank You to some very special thru-hikers. In order of appearance: my beach bros (Casper, Tundra, Tony The Pony, Adrien The Spy); my Northland buddies (Julian and Christine); my Crate Day crew (Bram, Baptistie, Ondi <3, Sabina, Helga, G-String); my pirate brethren (Vera, Justin, Michaelangelo, Chloe); my Tararua crew (Matt, Steph, Bīn, Amy, Dom); my Richmond mafia (Leo, Padre, Sundown, Babyshark); my Canterbury corps (Bojan, Marco, Elena, Man-Gerbil, Andrew); my Otago horde (Patrick, The Sydster, Team R&R); and thru it all, Christie.

Special thanks to all the trail angels, including Chief Makati, Candycroc Life-Saver, Officer Damon, marvelous Dayll & Ollie, the finest folks at the Green Bus and the Roost and the Outdoor Center and Birchwood and every other hut and hostel and home that made us feel safe and warm and clean, Raewyn IOU doc, Wattie I spread your legend, and just the thousand people who’ve done good by a forestjew up and down Aotearoa.

Thank you to my people-people around the world: family, friends, tramily from other trails, and friendly strangers on Reddit and IG.

Thank you to the Te Araroa Trust and to DOC. Kia ora rawa atu. Please keep this trail going for the next year and the next. So long and thanks for all the fantails.

And to the class of 2019-20: kea kaha cuz the trail won’t hike itself.

Final thoughts: flat whites; crisp high fives; neuken in the keuken; only take bbubblebbaths; give koha, get koha; cowboy under the stars; no rough, no tough, no Bluff; <3

-Silver
david axel kurtz
davekov dot com
…dolla dolla billz yall

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The AT and the TA compared

•14 March 2019 • 2 Comments

I am an Appalachian Trail thru-hiker (left Springer on March 7th 2018). I am currently in Invercargill, New Zealand, a mere 30km away from completing Te Araroa (left Cape Reinga on November 14th). I’ve decided to take a few zeroes and wait for tramily to catch up so that we can finish together. So I’m on a free computer in the local public library, backpack under the desk, poles leaning against the wall, blogging about the trail… because, indeed, hikertrash for life.

Here are my thoughts comparing the Appalachian Trail to Te Araroa.

>>OVERVIEW

The Appalachian Trail (“the AT”) is a 2,200-mile hiking trail in the United States. It is the better part of a century old. It is an uninterrupted walking path, primarily through forest – it’s nickname is “the green tunnel.”

Te Araroa is an 1,800-mile trail in New Zealand. The name means “The Long Pathway” in Maori. It is less than a decade old. It is a semi-contiguous tramping track which is mostly walked, but there are sections of recommended or optional canoeing, bicycling, packrafting, and even hitchhiking. It goes through tropical rainforest, native and introduced woodlands, tussock and meadow, sheepfold and farmer’s fields, private land, Maori land, boulderfield, scree, alpine garden, high mountain pass, sprawling suburbs, highway shoulders, dry riverbed, occasionally dry riverbed, rarely dry riverbed, and a few times you just straight up walk in a river.

One who hikes either trail, from one end to the other, is a thruhiker.

>>LENGTH

Pretty similar. The AT is about 2,200 miles, Te Araroa 1,800 miles.

>>ELEVATION CHANGE

The Appalachian Trail is a rollercoaster. From tip to tail, a thruhiker will climb – and lose – around 464,000 feet of elevation.

I’m afraid that I have no good data on Te Araroa’s total elevation gain. This trail is just too young to have been subjected to rigorous data gathering.

But for comparison, my gut says:

The North Island is similar to the Mid-Atlantic (WV to NY); the Tararuas are the Smokies; the Richmonds and Nelson Lakes are the Whites and western Maine; Canterbury is Virginia; Otago is Tennessee; Southland is the Hundred Mile Wilderness… except with more sheep.

>>TRAIL

The AT is a well-defined trail. You’re either on it, or you’re in the woods.

It has a lot of little side-hikes. “VIEW -> .3 MI.” is a common sign. Most of these blueblazes are there solely for AT hikers (if not necessarily thrubies).

While the AT has some intersecting trails, very few would remotely tempt a thruhiker. They are, at best, more of the same – and are generally seen as little but opportunities to do bonus miles. You know, accidentally.

Te Araroa is different. Oftentimes it is not a trail at all, but a route – there’s a marker or stile or object in the distance, and you are to cross to it however you want or can. Sometimes you get lost. Sometimes you try an approach, find it doesn’t work, and have to double back. Sometimes you get where you’re going in a way the trail might not have even considered.

On Te Araroa, side hikes are pretty much the rule. This includes connector trails – shortcuts, longcuts, and just plain alternate routes. It’s not uncommon for people to hike tens of kilometers extra, or even hitch or bus, to get to a sd ide hike like the Milford or Kepler. On the Deception Track, I strongly advise trampers NOT to follow the trail markers. I once hiked on the wrong side of a river for 2 straight days – and it was lovely.

>>ELEVATION

The high points of the two trails are very similar. On the AT, Clingman’s Dome (Great Smokey Mountains) is 2025m. On Te Araroa, Stag’s Saddle (near Tekapo, Canterbury) is 1925m.

However, while the official Te Araroa trail goes down from Stag’s Saddle, nearly everybody takes a side trail *up* to a high ridge walk for a far more picturesque descent. So you get to the high point and then immediately go higher. Which, like, Te Araroa as.

The low point of the AT is about 200′ (the bear cage at the zoo in Bear Mountain, NY). Whereas Te Araroa frequently has you at sea level – including on the first day, and the last.

>>GUIDEBOOK, GUTHOOK

The AT has an official guide, an unofficial guide (AWOL), and an unofficial app (Guthook) (among others).

Te Araroa has no official guide. The official route is set by “trailnotes,” which seem to average about a page for every 10km. Sometimes they are annoyingly short. Often they are powerfully long. In many places they are basically unusable without Guthook. In most places you cannot rely on Guthook alone.

>>CHANGEABILITY OF TRAIL

The AT changes a bit every year. This year, for example, Mt Justus (Georgia) was off the trail. There are also temporary changes. Hundreds – including some of my tramily – got shuttled around wildfires at McAfee Knob, floods on the C&O towpath, and other interruptions.

The same is true on Te Araroa. Two northland forests were closed this year to prevent the spread of Kauri Dieback. Another was closed south of Auckland, resulting in a roadwalk of something like 80km. Likewise, several people were shut out of the Richmonds due to forestfires. And don’t even get me started on lambing.

But changes are far more common on Te Araroa just because it is a new trail. For example, when the AT first opened, it was almost half roadwalking. Now it is well less than 1%. But that took decades to accomplish, piece by piece. Only a few years ago did they open a forest path above the Creeper Trail (side note: WHY?). Te Araroa is on the same path, but it is slow. Will it ever eliminate roadwalks? Probably. Will it take decades? Absolutely. It’s just how long trails get made.

>>HITCHING AND ROADWALKING

To be an AT thruhiker, you have to hike every inch of the trail. Emphasis on Every Inch. Emphasis on Hike.

You can’t skip a section. You can’t hitchhike around it. You can’t ride a horse down the Smokies or rollerblade Skyline Drive. You walk. Every inch. That’s thru hiking.

On Te Araroa, things are different.

First of all, there’s all that road. Some stretches are over 50 miles long. Some of it is highway. You are walking on the narrow shoulders of a road where cars go 70 miles an hour. Some stretches have no camping the length of them, so you *have* to do a marathon or more. And most of it is, shall we say, not memorable hiking.

Some people bike the roads. Some people hitch them. Some even hire shuttles or take a bus.

These people are still seen as thru hikers on Te Araroa.

Some questions are ripe for pond’rin. Is biking a section less pure than hiking it? More pure than hitching? Is hitching more pure than a bus? How about kayaking instead of canoeing? How about taking a bridge rather than fording a river?

On the AT, the answers would be obvious. In New Zealand, every tramper has to answer these questions for themselves.

>>SHELTERS AND HUTS

On the AT, there is a shelter about every 5 miles. Almost all of them are lean-tos, open to the night air, with little more than wood platforms on which you can lay your NeoAir.

There are a few exceptions, the most notable being the Whites – full-service huts that cost $140 a night, and are still usually full.

I started the AT early in the year, and pushed through bad weather. As a result I hardly ever used my tent after Georgia.

I also did work-for-stay at every single hut in the Whites. Which, like, acceptable.

Te Araroa is far less regular. There are almost no shelters anywhere. There are designated campsites, paid campsites both public and private, seaside campgrounds, mid-city holiday parks, hostels, resorts, homestays both official and random, and huts.

There are over 1500 backcountry huts across New Zealand. Near a hundred are on or near the trail.

The average hut is basically a small house: four walls, windows and a door, bunks with mattresses, often a fireplace, sometimes an indoor faucet leading to the raintank. First come, first served – most sleep 6-8, a few less, a few more.

Some were built mainly for TA walkers. Some, like Greenstone, were built for those on an intersecting path. Some were built for hunters, or foresters, or shepherds, or gold-miners. Some were built *by* those people and were later taken over by the Department Of Conservation (DOC). And some are still private; put some cash in the koha box, and you can stay.

Some are ancient. Some are pretty terrible. Most are totally great. A few are AWESOME.

I think I slept in my tent a total of five times on the South Island – and three times were before the Richmonds. In total I think I’ve spent 60 nights in huts this trip. About 10 of which involved a roaring fire.

It changes your plans. Some days I have definitely hiked less than my all because I wanted to stop at a hut. A few times I’ve pushed on because a hut was full but the next one might have room.

Hut zeroes are free and awesome. Hut neros are great in snow or rain. And remember, any hut that isn’t on the TA is likely to be empty most of the time. I know a hiker who spent 5 days alone in a beautiful wooden hut on a mountaintop and it didn’t cost her a dime.

>>THE WEATHER

The short answer is: they’re terrible on both trails.

Parts of the AT can see snow at elevation any time of year (hi, Katahdin). In July, 100 degrees and 100% humidity is not uncommon almost anywhere on the AT; in March or November, even in Georgia, below-zero nights might be augmented by gale-force winds and snow. While this might not be common, it is possible – and to survive a thru-hike, you don’t pack for probabilities, you pack for possibilities. All of them.

I had a very unlucky AT hike. Blizzards, hail, freezing rain, brutal cold, a microburst not 5 miles away, gale winds, trees down like threshed wheat, then 24 straight days of rain and floods, then a record heat wave and wildfires.

But now, I’ve had a pretty lucky time on Te Araroa. Dry and mild in Northland, only a few rainy days in Waitomo, dry on the river, almost no wind on Mt Crawford, then only 2 bits of rain the entire South Island – and no snow the entire hike.

But: pople just ahead of me had horrible rainy months. People just behind me are in snow. I’ve been lucky.

…and I’ve zeroed strategically :)

>>PERMITS

To hike the AT does not require a permit. I never got a tag or number. You need a permit for the Smokies, but its cheap and there’s no cap. You need a tag in the Shennies, but it’s free. That’s all.

On Te Araroa, you need a cheap permit for the Queen Charlotte. That’s it.

You also need a Backcountry Hut Pass to stay in the huts. It costs about 40 USD for 6 months unlimited. For me that will have come to under a buck a night. I, ah, recommend it.

Would both benefit from stagnated start times a la the PCT? I think maybe. But that’s just my 2 boxings.

>>FOOD CARRIES

The average common food carry on the AT is about 70 miles – 4 days.

The longest is the 100 Mile… though that’s about 4 days for most nobos at that point. And, there are food drops available.

The shortest are under a day – thank you, Waysides.

On Te Araroa, there is no average. On the North Island you can often go dairy to dairy. Town food is basically the norm. Then for the Richmonds you are suggested to carry 11 days – 7 for the hike, 4 in case of bad weather and/or flooded rivers. Then you have to mail food parcels ahead for over 2 weeks of hiking. (Except it turns out you really don’t have to.) (Don’t get me started.)

And what about resupply? I think the longest hitch I even considered on the AT was 9 miles (Buena Vista, VA). I have walked almost that far in NZ just to get to a spot where I could get a hitch 40 miles away.

On the AT, pretty much every town has a workable resupply, and most hostels can reup you well enough. In NZ some trail towns don’t even have a gas station, and hiker supplies – even canister fuel – might mean a hitch of a hundred miles.

But more than anything, Te Araroa requires research. You can’t just look at AWOL, think “80 miles to Damascus, so 4 dinners 5 lunches.” You have to look at the DOC estimates of how long each upcoming section will take to hike. You have to consult the weather. You really should look at the elevation map. You definitely need to examine the river crossings. Anc you have to know your abilities, your needs, your will. And how sick you are of OSM bars. In short, logistics and resupply are far more complicated on Te Araroa.

>>OUTFITTERS AND GEAR

On the AT, they’re pretty dang common. On Te Araroa, they can be scarce at times – and many outdoor stores here are 20 years behind (say) REI. Lost a titanium tent stake? You’re replacing it with aluminum. Ripped one of your DCF overcompensation devices? You’re patching it with ducktape.

Fortunately there will always be merino aplenty.

>>DIVERSITY WITHIN THE HIKE

The AT is not really known for its diversity of trail. There’s a saying that, if you can hike the approach trail, you can hike the whole AT. A corrolary is that, if you’ve hiked the approach trail, you *have* hiked the whole AT – and this is said only half in jest.

The AT is lovely. Rich forests, waterfalls, 2000m mountains, alpine zones up north. But it can get a bit… samey. And then stay samey for 1800 miles.

Te Araroa ain’t like that. It is a wild ride. It is a fucking potpourri. Beach and bush. Forest snd tussock. Scree and slate. Trail and field. Paddock and highway. City and village. Streams and rivers, lakes, oceans. Giant swingbridges. Tiny little ropewalks. Desert and rainforest. Rift valley. Volcanic waste. And the waterfalls are *insane*.

For my money, there is more diversity of terrain on the first *day* – the first *7 miles* – than there is in the AT from Springer to Moosilauke. Just from Ship cove to St. Arnaud is like, without hyperbole, 20 COMPLETELY DIFFERENT HIKES… in 8 days.

>>DIFFICULTY

The AT has a few tough bits. But, 1, it is never really dangerous – and 2, most of the tough bits just slow you down a bit. They don’t require particular technique or planning. They’re just an extra serving of the same.

Te Araroa is harder. It presents lots of big changes in terrain, climate, and what is required of you. Jumping locked fences. Testing roaring rivers. Sliding down scree slopes. Running from bulls. Shooting rapids in wide canoes. Getting hitches on gravel roads. Crushing 70 mile roadwalks. Tenting in the middle of a busy town.

There are several places I noticed where a less fit, less focused, less experienced, or less lucky person, could have badly hurt themselves or just straight up died. After Te Kuiti I almost fell to possible death 3 times (only 2 for Christie, clearly I’m winning). Helicopter evacs happen all the time here – and sometimes it’s body recovery.

Did I ever feel like I should have stopped? No. It was dangerous, but slow and steady was sure to survive the race. Still, it was often a significant increase in difficulty over *anything* on the AT.

>>DANGER

The AT has bears, copperheads, black widows, brown recluses, wildcats, leeches, crazies, Confederates, and The Doyle.

Te Araroa has… weka.

New Zealand FTW.

>>DAY- AND SECTION-HIKERS

In 2018, something like 10,000 people started a thru-hike of the AT, and several million people put boots down on at least some part of the Trail.

In 2018-2019, over a thousand people started a thruhike of Te Araroa. Most of our trails are primarily or exclusively for us alone. I rarely saw more than half a dozen thru hikers in camp at night, and it was uncommon to meet more than a couple non-thrubies all day long. Some days I saw not a soul for hours – or even all day. It is a much quieter trail.

Except Tongariro. >:|

>>LASHERS AS THRUBIES

On the AT, a thru-hiker is someone hiking every durn foot of the AT within a year (contiguous or calendar). Anyone doing less is treated differently by the vaaast majority of thrubies.

On the TA, a significant percentage of walkers will only walk the South Island – a distance of only about 40% of the total trail. Yet these people are generally considered thru-hikers. And generally they’re treated just the same.

(I’ve never met someone just hiking thf North Island. It seems… unlikely.)

>>ERO

On the AT, you are strongly encouraged to Stay On The Trail, lest you cause erosion.

As I’ve said, there often is no trail in NZ. You have to make your own way. Erosion isn’t even a consideration. (And when it happens, it’s just another part of the world.)

>TMAJ

On the Appalachian Trail there is trail magic. Someone will bring a gift to those hiking the trail. This usually = food. A folding table with snack cakes. An open car trunk with hot ir cold drinke inside. A box of beer hidden under a picnic table. A guy cooking hot dogs on top of a mountain.

In the South especially, tmaj can be real common. Once I got it twice in one day. A few times I basically did a resupply off what someone brought. Once in New York, on my pre-thru lash, a jug of water was near to life-saving.

On Te Araroa this basically never happens. There is no culture for it. The trail is too new, has too few alumni. Also, most thruhikers are nonlocal – from a different hemisphere, like as not. So nobody’s around to cook hamburgers.

I will say, however, that I cannot overstate the kindness and generosity of kiwis. They might not do trailmagic per se, but that’s little loss when they’re inviting you into their homes for supper, or letting you sleep on their spare mattress or in their caravan, or taking you fishing, or boating, or offroading in their utes, or taking you on a magical woodworking adventure (it’s a long and AMAZING story), or just giving you advice about the trail ahead – because it seems every other kiwi has hiked at least twice as much as you ever will. Because this is EnZed, and that’s how kiwis roll.

>>DOGS

On the AT, traildogs are common. And they are GOODBOYES.

On Te Araroa, much of the trail goes through conservation land.  This usually = native birds, which usually = kiwis. Apparently a dog will just chow right down on a kiwi. As such, thrupuppers are mostly not allowed.

>>FINAL THOUGHTS

I’m terribly glad I did the AT. I loved it. I loved the suck and the suffer snd the people and the world. Also, it got me in shape. It kicked my damn ass around the schoolyard. Without it, I don’t think I could have done Te Araroa at all.

I’m terribly glad I did Te Araroa. I liked it more than the AT.

I’m glad I did the AT first. I’m afraid that, after Te Araroa, much of it would seem easy… and most of it would be boring.

I would probably recommend Te Araroa to a more experienced hiker. It can be hiked by a less experienced hiker to be sure. But I would not recommend Te Araroa to an immature person, a scatterbrained person, or someone looking to find themselves – that is better done at Trail Days.

I would recommend the AT to someone looking to get into hiking, to get in shape, or to really get into the zone and crush some fuckin’ miles.

I would tell an AT hiker to hike Te Araroa – but to consider hitching the roads, doing sidehikes, and possibly just skipping from Whangarei to Tamarunui.

I would tell a Te Araroa hiker to hike Hanover to Katahdin – but not to be surprised if the Prezzies are pretty cruisy. Maybe Springer to Hot Springs for a fun section. Otherwise, I’d tell them they probably wouldn’t like it. Also there aren’t nearly enough mutton pies.

If I do the AT again, it’d be as winter sobo, or a trailrunner caring solely about speed.

If I do Te Araroa again, it’ll be only doing sections – and even then, there’s still so much of NZ I’ve got to hike first.

Alright, I ended up writing most of this on my phone and boy are my fingers tired. Time for bed.

<3

-Silver

IG: @daxelkurtz if you want pics

Daxel Contra Wristwatches

•4 October 2018 • Leave a Comment

There’s a lot of “go big or go home” thinking in wristwatches now. And I think it’s an economically rational decision. Either get something expensive and fuck-you, or wear something that costs $30 and is basically disposable. The middle-market is a study in irrelevance.

You can see this by looking at TAG Heuer. As little at 20 years ago they were making monstrosities like this – gaudy frankenwatches, slick and wetly chromed like Giger meets Rob Liefeld, the sort of thing you’d expect to get for 10,000 skiball tickets at an LA galleria in 1993. Now they have gone back to their roots to make Autavias like this and this. Which are clean, classy, masculine – at once traditional and smart.

(And Brietling is right behind.)

I expect this reflects six trends: two macro, two micro, two phyto – relating to the global economy, the luxury-good economy, and the watch-world in particular, respectively.

Macro: there is more wealth in the world in general.

Macro: there is greater wealth inequality, and so those who have are more likely to have a lot.

Micro: if you want to wear a watch at all, it’s probably as a statement of value.

Micro: if you want a watch that isn’t a statement of value… you can just buy a Timex.

Phyto: we have much rejected the desparation for novelty that marked the 60s thru the 80s, and just, like, thank God

Phyto: we have much rejected the developing of new fashion trends at all, in favor of appropriating the fashion trends of previous generations.

At its most favorable, I would suggest that the first phyto trend represents an enlightened embrace of quality, and that quality – rather unsurprisingly – can often be found in techniques from the eras and epochs before mass production, when making was hard, repair was difficult, utility was the name of the game, and as a result, the development of quality was just a simple necessity.

It is unsurprising that the use of older techniques brings about an embrace of older designs and aesthetic sensibilities. On the one hand, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, that is fine. But on the other, it is facile to believe that technique and design are separable. The employ of a traditional production method is a great way to realize the wisdom of the traditional design associated with it.

A bit more cynically, I would posit that the second phyto trend represents something a bit more philosophically cumbersome. The backward-looking archaism of wearing a historical watch-style – which is basically synonymous with wearing a watch at all – is a reflection of the fact that, while we have the intelligence to realize that the little variations and trappings of kultur are unimportant, we lack the courage to escape them. A hipster is a person who takes on the aesthetics of others in order to avoid having one for themselves. “We do this ironically,” they say, “because we are all emperors, and yet for some reason, the emperor must wear clothes.”

I would say that aesthetics are contextual, and all too often, we lack context. The contextual basis for aesthetics applies both to production and use. In a globalized world, we can make (or buy) whatever we want, wherever we are. Likewise we usually don’t need specialized clothing or equipment (at least not of a personal nature, to be worn day-to-day).

In the modern world, much of what we wear and use is of sufficient quality that it could be used in most, if not all, common contexts. Jeans and a t-shirt are easily dismissed because they are easily accomplished. In reality, they are the apotheosis of millennia.

Compare to Budweiser. Ever notice how a (traditional) Budweiser can has those gold medal blazons on it? From when, in the 1890s, it was declared the Best Beer In The World. And at the time, it was – because the goal of brewing, for literally thousands of years, was to create a beer that was simple, easy-drinking, clean, stable, and reproducable from every batch to batch. Every medieval maker of ale and amber was dreaming of a pale pilsner. Budweiser was the success of a thousand lifetimes. Just as the dream of every beer-drinker was that it always be late spring, with no need to drink watered lager in the summer heat, nor stout in the winter cold. Now we have indoor heating and A/C (or, y’know, moving to Los Angeles). We can achieve harmony, stability, perfection – not just in production, but in use. Fuck off, Thomas Hobbes: life is communal, rich, pleasing, lazy, and long.

But it’s boring.

So we go backwards, to a time when it was not boring. We make historical beer-styles, stouts and switchels, and we pay five times as much for the privilege and talk about Bud with disdain. Because we miss the variety that came about through necessity. Because all dress is just playing dress-up. Because nothing is necessary anymore.

In the same way we strive for ancient weaves and complex designs because jeans and a t-shirt are easy and dull. They are perfectly acceptable in basically all situations ever (and don’t give me any ‘but Black Tie!’ nonsense – neo-Victorian dress protocols are the epitome of hipsterism; they are just cosplay for those with a lot of dough). I would argue that they have actually been improved upon a little – a Merino base layer, a Patagonia shell, some zipoff ripstop pants, and a pair of trailrunners, and you’re basically ready for anything in the fucking universe. But we’re talking incremental improvements, here – which is to say, diminishing returns. From cotton to wool is not apples to oranges; more like a 1665 to 216600. That is to say, more like Budweiser to Heineken.

Take the “dress watch.” It’s not just a simple, thin watch, because anyone can make that. It apes the earlier style inside and out. It is preposterous archaism – and they make tens of thousands of them a year, selling for at least ten thousand dollars a piece. Not because they’re better than a Daniel Wellington. They are inarguably worse than many a $300 Seiko. Because we have no needs, and so, have no culture. Because we have nothing to strive for today, so we join in the strivings of yesterday – columns on our McMansions, Calatravas on our wrists.

And outside of necessity, attempts to create newness are like controlling a machine through positive feedback. At best you get something kinda cool, like the Ploprof – that is certainly no more useful than a regular dive watch (like the original Rolex submariner, or a $300 Seiko Prospex)… and let’s not forget that this is a very low bar. But more often you get something really stupid, like a Richard Mille that costs more than a condo in Somerville. And I could post two dozen examples of modern “haut horologie” but honestly, I just ate breakfast, I don’t want to look at ’em.

Really the basic truth is that the mechanical wristwatch reached its apotheosis with the Rolex Oyster in the 1930s. Everything since then has been diminishing returns – if any. These days mechanical watch should almost always be a Rolex. The only reasons not to buy a Rolex are to prefer aesthetic differences, or to save money. Both rational justifications – but there is no third.

And that’s not even touching mechanical versus quartz. Which is probably more than Budweiser versus Heineken… and the Heineken in this case costs about one sixtieth of the Budweiser.

On the one hand, I can’t imagine that I would like to live in a world where everyone wore jeans and t-shirts like they were Mao Suits. On the other hand, creating difference without necessity is just very dull. The better thing to do is work on incremental improvements – making things better, and more durable, and cheaper. Concomitant is the goodness of working to see that more people can afford the necessities of life. But best, I would argue, is seeking NEW NECESSITIES – new challenges, new problematizations, new contexts. So that our creations are solutions, informed by need and use. So that the result is not simply faffing about; it is necessary; it is authentic.

Gear changes between the AT and TA

•2 October 2018 • Leave a Comment

This is really comparing the gear that I am ending the AT with, versus what I’m taking when I begin the TA. Will have to revist if and when I finish the TA – and compare to when I started in Harpers Ferry!

Here are the changes:

PANTS:
-ditched kilt, because (oddly) it’s more of a cold-weather thing.
-instead I will be wearing light nylon pants with zipoff legs (i.e. they turn into shorts)
-in point of fact, think I’ll bring 2 pairs of the shorts but only 1 pair of legs, since I expect I’ll very rarely want ‘pants’ – mostly in town
BOOTS:
-ditched hiking boots (a while ago), because generally not needed as a thrubie
-Instead will be using trailrunners
-but now I’ve got heavier trailrunners, with vibram lugs for grip, a rockplate for protection, and “sandpaper toes” for grip… AKA, basically approach shoes
PACK:
-backpack went from 40L internal capacity to 70L internal capacity
-fabric is now thicker (35wt dcf to 150wt woop woop), and also has a small internal frame
-new backpack does not have external pockets. instead it has external daisychains, from which I will hang carabiners and a few lengths of paracord, so I can make my own pockets/hangs as I see fit. we’ll see how this works!
STORAGE
-added two more stuff sacks, just to make internal organization a bit easier
CARABINERS
-biner game has steadily evoled. at this point, am carrying 2 locking carabiners affixed to rear of pack (for max reliability), and 2 quick-release biners on belt-loops (for max ease)
SOCKS
-ditched the ultrapadded boot socks. using lightweight ankle-socks instead
-still DarnTough of course. because… of course.
HAT
-traded heavy wool hat for light wool beanie. because the only time I need more than that is when I sleep, and for that I have The Darth Vader Hood
GLOVES
-ditched the lightweight gloves because they did nothing. mittens for sleeping or snow; otherwise, bare skin
-bringing rain gloves. useful primarily for getting water out of half-frozen springs
POLES
-ditched my carbon lekis, because they kept breaking, sad pandas
-using $20 aluminum poles. even if they do break… twenty bucks, not two hundred
OTHER
-added a Fisher Space Pen (teeny keychain version), because the ability to write is pretty cool
-added a second 2L platy, because there might be some longer water carries
-switched from 5000mAh battery pack, to 20,000. for longer “power carries”
-fresh paracord. #treatyoself

The Process Due

•28 September 2018 • Leave a Comment

For discussion:

When:

1) an accusation is made

2) under oath

3) accusing a person requesting a benefit (and emphatically NOT a respondant in judicial proceedings)

4) of an act or omission,

5) which would, if true, render them unfit to receive that benefit, and

6) the accusation is facially credible;

​THEN​

the accusation should be held to create a rebuttable presumption of unfitness.

The burden of proof thus shifts firmly to the accused, to either

A) disprove the allegations,

B) demonstrate the incredibility of the accuser, or

C) argue that the allegations, even if true, do not warrant an adverse judgment.

If they are unable to so do, the accuser is given the benefit of the doubt, and the accused is denied the benefit of the position.

 

In such a circumstance, I think that it would be charitable to offer the accused the benefit of neutral, professional investigation, which might produce such evidence, at their request.

Vow of Poverty

•28 September 2018 • Leave a Comment

For discussion: a framework for reducing congressional self-interest:

  1. A person serving as a member of congress shall be barred from doing any paid work, or any unpaid work for a for-profit corporation, or any unpaid work for a registered lobbyist, for a period of time equal in length to their tenure in congress, to begin at the moment they leave office.
  2. A person serving as a member of congress shall receive their full congressional salary, and medical benefits, during the time wherein this prohibition is in effect.
  3. This shall in no way impair the ability of these persons to serve in other governmental positions, in any branch of government, whether elected, appointed, or related to military service.
 
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