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While the bodies still can and we still have our marbles!

Category: Minimalism (page 1 of 18)

The Kiwi Backpackers Whose Travels Have Inspired Them To Downsize Their Lives

The below editorial featured in The Press ‘Escape’ section on the 12 July 2018, written by Lorna Thornber.

Cantabrian couple Brent and Claire Ruru had been living in Dubai for two years when they decided they had too little time left on the planet to waste it wearing themselves out in the corporate rat race.

They had moved to the United Arab Emirate after raising their children and building a successful childcare business in Christchurch, but their new lives amid the shiny new skyscrapers of the desert city felt about as authentic as the snow on the ski slopes in Dubai Mall.

Brent, 52, says of his senior management role developing policies and procedures for a global logistics company: “I was driving to work in a square box, looking at a square box to generate square boxes for a bunch of squares.”

A year in, Brent was sure this wasn’t the way he wanted the rest of his life to unfold. Claire, 48, who had initially struggled to find work and had finally secured a role with the New Zealand Consulate, felt they should stick it out a bit longer.

Brent and Claire enjoy multi-day tramps in New Zealand in between overseas trips.

A year later, in 2011, they’d sold the furniture in their apartment to their landlord, shipped their sentimental possessions back to New Zealand and left for Turkey with just a couple of backpacks.

The plan was to hike from Istanbul to Gallipoli (their travel style is probably best described as free-spirited, shoestring-budgeted and slow-paced), walk famous Spanish pilgrimage trail the Camino de Santiago and trek to see critically endangered mountain gorillas in Rwanda before returning to New Zealand. When a friend joked that they may as well climb Mt Kilimanjaro as well, they decided to take him up on it.

The couple hope to walk the Camino de Santiago trail again in their eighties after being inspired by a couple of Australian “grey nomads”.

“It was very impromptu and before we had researched any facts about it being at altitude. All we could imagine was standing on the rooftop of Africa,” Brent says.

Friends told them they were mad for choosing to walk from Istanbul to Gallipoli, where Brent’s poua (grandfather) may have fought in 1915, when it was just a five-hour bus ride. But the couple saw it as a good way to transition from life in the fast lane to a more comfortable, contemplative plod.

The intention was to walk up the motorway toward Gallipoli and hang a left when they could to follow the Marama Sea coastline the rest of the way. They’d only taken about a dozen steps when Brent says they began cursing, “asking each other who’s bleeping idea it was and saying “jeez our packs are heavy”. I was carrying 19 kilograms on my back and six on the front; Claire had 17kg on her back”.

Arriving in Silivri – a city on the Marmara just outside metropolitan Istanbul – three days later, the pain in their upper thighs was so acute they believed it was no longer purely muscular, but skeletal.

At the end of the cycle portion of their journey along the Camino de Santiago.

“I couldn’t walk for the next two days and honestly believed our trip was over before we had barely started,” Brent says.

They laid out all their worldly possessions on the bed at the hotel that had fortunately found room for them and threw out everything but the barest essentials. It was, Brent says, the beginning of an ongoing mission to live simpler, less materialistic lives.

They walked through raw countryside dotted with villages where men sat outside drinking coffee and smoking while the women worked the fields, staying in cheap digs they came across along the way.

“Every now and then wild dogs would approach. The walking stick became our only defence, wobbling it around like a taiaha. And screaming loudly to scare them off. It did.”

In Pamplona for the Running of the Bulls.

There were a couple of incidents that riled them (they discovered they were staying in a brothel one night and Claire narrowly avoided a snake bite on her nether regions after venturing into the bush to pee) but they arrived in Gallipoli certain they had made the right life choice.

They did as all Kiwis do in Gallipoli, sleeping at Anzac Cove and attending the dawn service.

Brent’s journal entry that day was a poetic tribute to his poua:

“Although we never met, I know who you are,

My grandfather who went to Gallipoli, a land of distance far.

We came to see for ourselves, where you spent some fighting time,

To expose ourselves to history, and imagined how you shined.

The walk was hard and challenging but we made it all the same,

It was the least one could do, to honour the family name.

Anzacs are spoke of highly, so we commemorate and remember you.

From all the Ruru whānau, as they stand proud too.”

At the end of their reverse journey along the Camino de Santiago.

They had expected the Camino to be more of a physical adventure than a sentimental or spiritual one but Brent says the centuries-old trail seems to exude a “spiritual ambience”.

Walking from the village of Roncesvalles to Pamplona, of Running of the Bulls fame, they were surprised by how little their fellow “pilgrims” knew of New Zealand – and how quick they were to claim their countries did things better.

“Territorial banter is quick to assert world dominance status,” Brent says. “People from above the equator think we live upside down below and a number think we are a state of Australia and have no cars and ride horses. But it became more bull… banter after a day or two, taking the p… out of each other with smiles and laughter..”

In this way, he says, they became firm friends.

Off to see the critically endangered mountain gorillas of Rwanda.

In Pamplona, the couple switched their hiking boots for bikes, arriving in Santiago de Compostela, where biblical apostle St James is said to be buried, after 16 days. Still having “ages” before they needed to be in East Africa, they decided to head back the way they had come on foot so they could run with the famous bulls.

By this stage, their backpacks weighed 7kg each (although Brent carried an extra 3kg on his front) and they were feeling lighter in more ways than one.

“This became foundational to us embracing the minimalism culture and led us to mapping out living in a tent on our eventual return home,” he says.

One day, they came across a young American woman who was dreading returning to her routine existence as a hairdresser. As they walked, Brent inspired and persuaded her to quit her job and start up her own business in Spain.

Seeing how humans had encroached on the gorillas’ habitat in Rwanda inspired the Rurus to volunteer at an orangutan sanctuary in Borneo.

“She went to the nearest town, purchased some scissors and for five months walked up and down the Camino trimming pilgrims’ hair. All because we had that one conversation… We just never know how [a conversation while travelling] might turn out.”

It is conversations with strangers that give Brent the greatest pleasure while travelling.

Chatting to the porters, clad in jeans and business shoes, while climbing Kilimanjaro, the couple discovered they were fascinated by the All Blacks and held ex-player Jonah Lomu in particularly high regard.

“When they found out I could do the haka, I was asked to perform it every day after dinner,” Brent says.

Brent was asked to perform a haka on Africa’s highest peak.

His final performance took place at the summit and, once they were back down, he says the porters, whom he’d been teaching the moves, “performed a native song and haka in response.

“Those are the experiences that bring a tear to the eye when you reflect on them, long after the goodbyes are said.”

Their eventual return to New Zealand brought mixed emotions, including renewed gratitude for their homeland.

“We have a paradise in the left-hand corner of the Pacific”, he says, which allows you to lose yourself in its “playground topography”.

Brent and Claire prefer to live cheaply so they can spend longer on the road.

However, he says they experienced a kind of “reverse culture shock”, feeling that they had changed fundamentally on their travels whereas some they knew had simply aged. Things they had once deemed important, and others still did, no longer seemed to matter.

Determined to continue living more simply, they secured a permanent site at Christchurch’s Spencer Beach Holiday Park, pitched a family-sized tent and furnished it with a leather couch and TV set. Worried the water that pooled inside the tent during heavy rain would wreak havoc with the electrics, they soon upgraded to campervan, which became their home for the next four years.

“Our backyard had a beach, our lawns got mown for us; it felt like we were on holiday and we made friends with other permanents and outsiders who camped at the park,” Brent says.

An illustration by Brent of the couple’s caravan setup at Spencer Beach.

While some told them they were crazy for giving up their life in Dubai to live in a caravan, Brent says “the number of people who have communicated that we have got life sorted has grown markedly. Crazily in fact.”

These days, the couple live in an 80-square-metre “over 60’s unit” that’s so cost effective they’re able travel overseas regularly. Brent has retrained as a celebrant and does freelance illustration work, while Claire has become a contract bookkeeper – jobs that enable them to pack up and leave whenever they like.

Since moving back to New Zealand in 2012, they have volunteered in an orangutan sanctuary in Borneo, trekked up to Mt Everest Base Camp, ridden cross Canada on a tandem bicycle, staged a mutiny on a Cambodian cycle tour when the organisers asked the “impossible”, watched the sunset over the Temples of Bagan in Myanmar, released baby turtles into the surf in Sri Lanka and followed the Te Araroa Trail around the North Island.

Wearing New Zealand-branded tops while cycling through Canada scored them multiple impromptu homestays, Brent says.

“We are just a couple of baby boomers who have worked out what matters most and are chasing it,” Brent says. “While the bodies still can and we still have our marbles.”

His advice to others considering a similar lifestyle: “Commit to going for it, cost it out travelling budget style, save hard, go do it and repeat. The rest will fall into place.” That and “bugger the Joneses”.

Find A Purpose To Get Out There

Find a purpose to get out there on a micro-adventure and then give it meaning by doing.

The reward might be a sausage roll which adds substance to what you end up doing.

Once swallowed of course.  After chewing.  Which is before purchasing.  Because you ventured.

I’ll stop now.

Mueller Hut, Aoraki/Mt Cook: Ko Aoraki te Māunga

Enrichment is to experience fellow beings do something they signed up for without researching first, what they signed up for.

And so was the case with our mates, Tin and Lisa and, Andy and Mandy.

“Would you guys be interested in walking into a hut?”

“Yep, sure”.

And so I booked Mueller Hut.  Not so much in as it was up.

Then the abuse started. Or more the research conducted and the many questions with self doubt asked once they ascertained that Mueller Hut was a steep climb up – 1,800 metres or so.  Being a funeral celebrant had nothing to do with it.  Not at all.

But they accepted.  And made time to train, whether up Rapaki Track or the pipeline of The Bridle Path.  And persevered.

Then the day arrived and unfortunately, due to predicted 150km winds expected the day we were to descend, DOC advised not to stay overnight but to still hump it up to the Sealy Tarn and if you can get up to the Ridge, bonus.

And so they did. Up steep zig zagging steps that had a number of others traversing the altitude, voice about the challenge.

Reaching the Sealy Tarn to peer out and up the Hooker Valley, Aoraki/Mount Cook graced the horizon with share mana, it was priceless.  Ko Aoraki te Māunga.  Translated, it means Aoraki/Mt Cook is my mountain.  An important part of my mihi,

It was gut busting and crunched bone on gristle or strained muscle off tendons.  But they did it – Tin and Lisa and, Mandy and Andy.

1,797 man-made steps they ascended.  How can one not be proud of ya mates.  How can one not be enriched, by them.

Then onward and more so upward we trekked.  Mandy’s dodgy knee won out on the next part and had M & A make the call to decide to re-trace the steps back down.  The rest of us continued on.

Orange markers and tussock abated to become rock and scree, sometimes we had to lean into the mountainside to keep the balance.

And when we reached the ridge line, the force of the wind in it’s infancy gave hair a buff up as if one had stuck a finger straight into an electrical socket.  Fellow trekkers were descending and their advice was to push on for a further 20 minutes.  The Mueller Hut was that close.

As we sat looking out the windows of the Mueller Hut to Mount Ollivier, there was a sense of achievement at taking on the elements and pushing the body boundaries to view the peak Sir Edmund Hillary first climbed to begin his life’s passion for summiting peaks of the globe.  His legacy was now our reality.  The 360 degree view was absolutely stunning.  Avalanche’s across the valley were regular, as snow cascaded down cliff faces.  The wind whistled between the hut piles cemented strongly into the rock foundations below.  It reminded us to get out and down before mother nature would allow otherwise.

And so we did, meeting up the Mandy and Andy at the Hermitage Mount Cook for a celebratory ale.  Before returning back to Twizel to our hosts the night before, Mike and Anne.  The meal prepared and dished up was amazing.  Only after retiring to the mattress did the body remind us that we had pushed the thing to the limits.

It was worth it.

Enrichment is to experience fellow beings do something they signed up for without researching first, what they signed up for.

Just waiting for the team to come back to me on the next adventure proposed.  They are currently doing their research … hahahahaha, ahem!

Never Before Have We Experienced Such: Lake Daniells Tramp

As soon as we opened the car door at Marble Hill, the bastards started nipping to suck blood! Sandflies. The race to smoother 80% deet insect repellent over exposed skin was on. Mandy lost in receiving the greater number of welts amongst the four of us. Swore the most too, ahem!

We were 5kms east of Springs Junction toward the Lewis Pass, at the start of an 8.4 km tramp into Lake Daniell for the night.

For BClaire & I, it is one of our favourites to take novice trampers on so they can be introduced to the world of getting lost on the landscape by foot. Carrying your life. We laugh with the newbies, not at them. We do that when they are out of sight and the beauty about this track is that it it nigh impossible to get lost on.

Except for the young fella who did back in 2002 and they found his body near the Alfred River. He was 14.

This was a practice tramp as well because in a couple of weeks, Mandy and Andy with Tin and Lisa are off on another little ‘Ruru’ adventure together. Tin and Lisa weren’t able to participate in this one as they are on a beach somewhere in the Pacific!

Anyway, off we stepped and the Sluice Box where you cross a cravass looked invitingly stunning. It was only five minutes into the walk and too early to get naked. The lake at the end is okay to skinny dip in after dropping the packs so onward the team progressed.

The 50 shades of green beech forest was alive with bird song – whether the Fantail, the Robin, the Bell bird and the like. So too was there the hum of wasps. We tend to respect each others personal space so as not to encounter confrontation.

The fauna was just beautiful as sunlight beamed down through the canopy. Old man’s beard translucent and the ground covered moss spongy like the softest mattress you could imagine. Stop starting is common to new comers to rest body parts newly discovered or rusty from lack of use. Whatever the reason, it’s about taking the time to take in the surrounds.

We arrived at the Manson Nicholls Memorial Hut to day walkers eating lunch or drying off from a swim. Once they departed, apparel was shed and into the lake we plunged to cool off and wash the sweat grime off. Heads kept above water as the lake sadly was slimey underfoot. It didn’t deter us from immersing the rest of the body.

No other trampers arrived, never before have we experienced such ever, to have a hut (sleeps 24) to ourselves. Andy lit the fire (even though it is was still hot and humid outside) … it was like a kid having a new toy for the very first time. As the light faded over a game of cards, the discussion turned to spooky stories cunjuring up Jason from Friday the 13th type fears that had us huddle. The snap of the branch and a gun shot echo didn’t help neither. Those of us who were awake most of the night – Mandy, BClaire and me had Andy’s snoring to contend with. It would’ve scared any monster who lurked beyond the hut walls away!

Rain arrived during the night and it was a lazy start tracing our footsteps from the day before. Poncho’s snailed in unison; the Alfred River and Sluice Box also up above the day before’s water mark. A stop in at Hanmer to soak the bones at the hot pools, well deserved.

There is no time to be bored in a world as beautiful as this and, to experience it with a couple of novices made the adventure magical.

And the next ‘Ruru’ adventure before dementia with Mandy, Andy, Tin and Lisa … google Mueller Hut!

A mare 2,200 steps give or take a couple. Up.

Purau Bay, Lyttelton Harbour

Instead of tandem biking around the water, why not end up in it?

And so we did.

Was much cooler, that’s for sure!  Especially as the mercury crept up to the 30 degrees celcius.

With our mates Randall and Maree, we wound up at Purau for an impromptu picnic, sunning, swim and paddle.

Found a boat named ‘Ruru’. Could do with a little tender loving care.

More significantly, moored in the bay was the yacht ‘Chieftain’ that I helped sail around the South Island with a couple of old fella’s Wayne and Max.  I wonder if my message in the bottle has washed up somewhere yet?!

A day where best intentions got reversed and then revised that was certainly more refreshing.

Ya gotta love this country.

Angelus Hut, Nelson Lakes National Park: Robert

The bunk room rustle is the trekkers rooster ‘cockadoodledoo’ squawk. After the first one starts, it isn’t long before another, then another.

Except a couple of us had already snuck out under the cover of darkness to experience sunrise.

It’s always been a thing to get up to watch the yellow ball appear beyond an horizon as a habit. It means you have survived to live another day and therefore, you had better make the most of it if it was to be your last! And by crickey, you had better be doing something you love doing if it is.

There were some moments following the Robert Ridge Route rocky sections whereby one quarter of an inch step to the left or right and over you would have gone! The same for not placing your footing on permanent terrafirma!

The flip side when the head looked up, the panoramic three sixty degree view. It allowed for the heart rate to settle before navigating a next part of Robert.  Most importantly, if this was to be our last moments on the planet, then we had already arrived at heaven. It was just spectacular.

The trail snail tracked down and dishing out a ‘Kia Ora’ salutation allowed those making their way up to make eye contact. The eyes told a story and you knew even though they were hurting, the reward at the end would worth the effort and energy expended. Persons older then us gave us peace of mind that perhaps there mayby a second time to watch sunrise from the Angelus Hut again. Perhaps.

Diverting right at a junction to take in the view of Lake Rotoiti was a bonus; the descent grade burned the thighs but by now, the taste of a melting paddle pop ice block at the end kept the legs on auto-pilot.

The Department of Conservation brochure reads: You must be fit enough to walk for 2-3 days, up to 12.2 kms for 6 hours per day and climb to1,800 m. You must be comfortable on rough terrain and without a fear of heights.’

Our summation is whether an overnight hump into where giant monster eels reside; or ascending four or so football fields to watch another day arrive; or catching up with Robert – it’s up there as being an adventure before dementia one should attempt to tick off.

And certainly before your last day.

6/8/17 The Rakaia Gorge Walking Track – Abandoned

As we departed west toward the Southern Alps, the weather was a balmy sunny morning.  Not a candyfloss cloud in the sky.

However, isobars on the Aussie side of the Alps were completely opposite with heavy rain.  Not the candyfloss type of clouds neither.

The Rakaia Gorge Track was in no man’s land.  As we started the 10 odd kilometre walk, sunshine.  Just 3 kilometres inland, driving rain has us cowering under vegetation canopy.  The wind picked up too giving caution to it being hypothermic possibilities.

It made for the track to become rivers of mud.  Bets were made as to who would ‘arse up’ first.  Staying on the track was paramount as a slide down into the Rakaia River would have been a drenching for sure.  Fortunately, no one did.

The decision to retrace our imprints and abandon the adventure was unanimous.

Once down on the grey whacky shingle bed looking back toward the bridges that connected the Inland Scenic Route, we were back in the rays and it didn’t take long to dry out.

Munching down our sammies overlooking the Rakaia River from the camp ground made pleasant.

Bell birds sang.  Rabbits hopped.  Jet boats jetted.  The girls gaggled.

In-between the munching of course!

23/7/17 It certainly wasn’t English swear words we know!

The buckets from above subsided … the grey matter broke open to reveal blue … it was an opportunity to head to some higher ground.

Another back yard experience to get elevation, this time on the Canterbury Port Hills and a little meander up Rapaki Track.

Calmbering over a slip on the pathway quite entertaining as fellow trailers negotiated the solid bits to be tricked and sink knee high in the sludgey mud.

We smiled at a number of people leaving their indent. Everyone else was too!

The panoramic 360 degree views from the rock face beyond the turnaround point was worth the extra steps up.

Full credit to the little Japanese girl who stood for ages pondering whether to go for it on the slip. It was halarious when I counted 3-2-1 and shouted ‘go’ to have her step off and go both knees deep. We turned around and quickly sped down the hillside not looking back.

I can still see her screaming as I had no idea what the hell she was saying.

It certainly wasn’t English swear words we know!

15/7/17 Arrrrrrrreeeeeeeeooooooooyyyyyyyeeeeeehhhhhhhhuuuuuuuuueeeeeeeeeee

The snow was over knee deep in places.

Disaster when your gumboots only came up your lower leg half way meaning the white powdery stuff broke off like an Antartic ice berg to drop into your galoshes.  It didn’t take much longer for it to become liquified.  Even the thickest of socks weren’t enough to protect the cold moisture nipping at your toes and the soles of your feet.

Laughter was frequent for the short arse in the party.  Alannah’s step had the snow just about touch her butt cheeks.  We took shorter steps to help.  Every now and then, the undulation beneath meant a face plant.  Laughter was then shared.From a distance, the slope to be conquered looked shallow.  At the bottom, the paradigm as was sharper with steepness.  However, this didn’t deter.  Up we stepped using the footprints left behind by other adventurers seeking the same adrenalin of sliding back down.

As altitude was reached, a cool wind whipped from left to right.  The sun beaming down in the cloudless sky did nothing to warm.  It did however, make the landscape crisp as far as the eye could see.  It was absolutely stunning to see the back bone of the South Island carpeted with snow.

Hordes of like-minded beings had made the most of what mother nature had dumped to create a play-ground so natural and free – there were little specs of bodies in all directions.  It was fun to watch from above the number of people who ventured out onto the frozen ice of the lake below.  As confidence grew, further out toward the middle they wearily trod.  No one plunged through during our observation.There was no paper, scissors nor rock as to who would go first.  Pick on the big guy!

As one looked down sitting on their toboggan moments before the grasp of the handle tightened and the feet lifted so gravity did its thing (nothing to do with a share slope at all, yeah right), you were zoned into the reality of what was.

This could either go tits up or plain sliding to the bottom.

A deep breath, a pause, and then feet lifted.

There was no yodelling ‘the hills are alive with the sound of music’, that’s for certain.

Some might describe it as a scream.  Whatever it was.  It just was.

“Arrrrrrrreeeeeeeeooooooooyyyyyyyeeeeeehhhhhhhhuuuuuuuuueeeeeeeeeee”

21/6/17 Find Your Purpose …

Training has started with a blat on the Fatty 29 tandem last Saturday and a blat on the mountain bikes on the Sunday.

It’s been a while since butts rode in tandem … all the technique was still there, yay!

And what better way to be inspired when we stopped for a rest, to be reminded of why we do the adventuring before dementia!

Sunday, minus 2 degrees celcius … the smiles say it all.

Find your purpose, your ‘why’ … and magnetise towards that.  Plus 4 degrees in the sun was enough to magnetise toward, ahem!

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