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The year was 1989, the place, the North Island of New Zealand, one of the most beautiful places on Earth in my experience (which is admittedly limited!) It's not my intention to give you much background to this story here - maybe another time, another website. I want to get straight to the climbing part...
What follows is an attempt to recapture one of the most memorable days of my life.
wouldn't take your daughter up there if I were you..."
The weather was quite warm when we started out, so the rainforest-like vegetation was most welcome as a protective covering from the sun. The path was clearly defined and the incline comfortably gentle. So far so good. Jessie was full of energy and didn't show any signs of needing to be carried, in fact she was running ahead of us most of the time, leading the way confidently. It was a very pleasant climb, with lots of surprises in the way of wildlife spotting. The highlight was a little creature eating an apple that a passing climber had dropped.
Can you spot him? It wasn't easy at the time either!
There's something about climbing mountains that is invigorating - and this proved no less true for a small child than for adults. Jessie's energy didn't seem to flag for a moment, and when we left the rainforest behind us several hours later and began the more strenuous climb over rough ground and a steeper incline, it was only the shortness of her little legs that hindered her progress....
Let's get in front of Jessie
now and take a picture looking out
An hour of this and we were in sight of the eagerly anticipated hot springs! Ten minutes of steep climbing over large rocks (Jessie needed help for this) and we could be seen stripping down to our bathers and sinking thankfully into the steaming pools of thermal water that abound in New Zealand. Aah! What a treat.
Now this is where things really became interesting. I omitted to mention that when we left the shelter of the rainforest, we were happy to discover that some cloud cover had begun to creep across the sky, affording a handy protection. As we relaxed in the pools the cloud cover thickened up considerably, and before long dense rolls of cloud were billowing toward us! It was an awe-inspiring realisation that we were actually up in the clouds! What wasn't awe-inspiring, but was somewhat disturbing, was the further realisation that we had a long climb down ahead of us and the weather was rapidly making a 180 degree turnaround. The sky was darkening and rain was inevitable.
We clambered out of the beautiful hot water, and shivering, quickly dressed ourselves in the change of clothes we had cleverly thought to pack in our backpacks. "Be prepared ", the faithful old motto, had held us in good stead. At this stage, Jessie decided she needed some sustenance (or was it comfort, as she contemplated the darkened sky?) and took refuge in a warm cuddle and some of Mum's milk!
The irony of a breast-fed toddler climbing a mountain was lost on me at the time, but now, eleven years later, it strikes me forcefully as I write. What a day it was! But it isn't over yet. We have several hours of climbing before we reach the shelter of the car, so we better head off a.s.a.p.
It is always easier going down, isn't it? In no time at all, it seems, we have clambered back down all those rocks that were so steep to climb up over, made our way through the low bushy undergrowth and have reached the sheltering arms of the trees again. This time, instead of protecting us from the sun, the rainforest lives up to its name and we eagerly take cover as the mist becomes raindrops. First a drizzle, then a steady shower, the rain is refreshing and, surprisingly, not unwelcome. We have the advantage of raincoats, and don't at all mind the 'down-to-earth' sensation of rain in our faces.
It's times like these when I understand how far we have moved away from nature, and what a sad loss it is. But it's not the time for deep thinking now - we just want to fully experience the wonderful sensation of freshness that pervades the air here... a freshness unrivalled by anything to be found in our normal day-to-day living, despite the promises of perfume companies or the makers of fabric conditioners!
The long hike seems too short! We are in sight of the car, and are about to take a longing, last look back along the track, when, without warning, the skies open and a deluge of water is suddenly dumped on us from above! No time for sentiment - we race for the car and fall panting into the front seat, absolutely soaked to the skin! Strange, but it seems a fitting way to finish the climb. We started out with a short stroll in direct sunlight, from the car to the rainforest, and ended with this mad dash in drenching rain, having experienced the full spectrum of weather conditions throughout the climb. Now that it is over, it seems to me that nothing less than this dramatic finale would have satisfactorily completed the day for me.
Have I managed to convey how much I loved this climb? There is more I could say, but I don't want to cut into anyone else's time. We're meant to be swapping climbing stories remember.. but somehow, I don't feel I have done the story justice. I'll say just a few more words, and if I can't finish in two minutes, I'll have to admit defeat and hand over to.. who's next? Connor, you've got a climbing story for us, haven't you? Good! OK... bear with me a moment longer...
I think what I wanted to lead up to with that story was this: that day actually changed me. Up until that time, I had experienced a certain degree of timidity about facing life. Life had become very difficult and I often had a vague sense of ... fear is too strong a word, but something like mild fear, that I might one day be too tired to go on, and it caused me to avoid situations in which I had to walk long distances in case I couldn't make it home. Strangely, I had no such qualms about swimming - I have swum in several long swims, including one over three miles long, and another two and a half miles, while I was six months pregnant, but these accomplishments didn't affect how I viewed life in general. In fact, it was usually only in race conditions that I could tap into this sort of energy. Often, when I went to the beach for a casual swim, I would chicken out because the water was too cold, but on race days I didn't give the water temperature a second thought!
As a young child I had always been too scared to jump fences, even when my cousin, who was inches shorter than me, sailed over them with ease. I remember being the only one in my class at school who was too scared to walk along a ledge on a cliff face one day, even though it was only a short drop to the ground. Then, when I was eight, we were on holidays in the Flinders Ranges, a magnificent spot in the north of my state, South Australia. All the 'big kids' were allowed to climb to St Mary's peak, but I had to stay at home with Mum.
Look at those skinny little legs!
I had been allowed to climb a smaller hill nearby, which whet my appetite and hinted to me of better things, but perhaps my reputation as a bit of a sook had ruined my chances for the big climb. Perhaps it was memories, still fresh after five years, of countless ruined walks in the bush near our home, when as a two or three year old I had begged to go with the older kids, only to fall in a puddle and have to brought home dripping. Whatever the reason, I remember feeling very hard done by that day.
And now I had my chance to climb a mountain. I vaguely remember having a few doubts about the wisdom of taking Jessie but the realisation that if my climbing companion had to carry her, the handicap would make it easier for me to keep up, helped sway me. It wasn't a conscious attempt to rid myself of the timidity that plagued me which prompted me to go climbing that day, so the outcome was a delightful surprise. I became acutely aware of a new boldness from the knowledge birthed through experience, that within me was a hidden reservoir of strength. There is something powerful in facing your fears, even if it is not a conscious decision. I can't say exactly what happened that day, but I do know the effects were permanent.
Ironically, I am currently experiencing a season of debilitation through having Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and that hidden reservoir of strength seems to have all but dried up! It has been a long three years and many hard lessons, but I have finally learned a higher truth about the human condition - the reason there is nothing to fear is not because of our own innate strength, amazing as that may be, but because of the inexhaustible strength of God, which He freely imparts to those who put their complete trust in Christ! This has been my joy and delight to gradually discover as I have scaled my personal 'mountains' of difficulty over the last fifteen years as a Christian, and never more than in recent years as I have experienced previously unimaginable weakness.
Now - over to you Connor!
Some of you might be interested to see how Jessie has grown over the last 11 years....
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