Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Sole man

I brought my Brasher boots to New Zealand because my old Keens had lost their waterproof qualities, and I assumed we would have significant rain. In the event, we had only a few light showers on one day. The Keens would have been fine. But the Brashers really didn’t work out.

Our first Great Walk was the Abel Tasman Coast Track. It’s the most popular of New Zealand’s Great Walks—about 200,000 people use it every year.

It’s easy walking. The profile above is misleading. Imagine stretching it out to maybe double length for a  better sense of its (lack of) steepness. And we walked easy, too. Over four days, we strolled about 50 kilometers (30 miles or so), completing all  but the last wee bit of the trail—the 5.5 kilometers past Whariwharangi Hut.

Nonetheless, on our very first day of the trip, half of us found ourselves dealing with blistering problems. Not one of us was a chronic blisterer, though my limping gait during the first few days of 2008 TGO Challenge had raised up a few beauts. The other folks attributed their difficulties—mostly on and between toes—to sand we picked up periodically walking along gorgeous (and mostly empty) beaches. I never progressed to actual blisters, but I had significant hot spots on the heels and balls of both feet. Not a sand problem, I thought and still think, but a boot problem.The treadway on the Tasman Track is, when it's not down on a beach or crossing an inlet or estuary, wide, flat and packed as hard as any paving. I think this contributed, too.

For the next three days, duct tape was energetically deployed by all sufferers, and some of us, me included, laid a foundation of Moleskin. I also walked the rest of the Tasman in Keen Newport H2 sandals, which turned out to be very good. Don’t get me going on how well trainers would have worked for the whole trip. (Very well indeed.)

The Anchorage Hut was right on the beach—it was only a few enthusiastic steps to the turquoise water of Anchorage Bay. The area was bustling with walkers, campers, kayakers, and boaters, and we learned that you could hire a water taxi to carry your gear for you from hut to hut while you wander comfortably along under a daypack alone. We, however, saddled up fully the next morning and began our walk by squelching across the Torrent Bay estuary.

This second day, about 14 miles of beautiful walking, and more great, empty beaches, began toward the end to feel like a real slog to most of us—the only time this happened during the two weeks. I think our travel fatigue had caught up with us. And for some of us, of course, our feet hurt.

The third day, to the wonderfully euphonious Whariwharangi Hut, began with a crossing of the muddy Awaroa inlet. At the other side, we dried our feet and enjoyed another jolly foot-taping break. I can confirm that misery does, indeed, love company. Actually, by this time we all had our problems under control and the worry that we had all felt—privately at first, publicly as it waned—that we might not be able to continue on to the other walks, had faded. The day’s walk was lovely ...  more spectacular beaches and stunning, quasi-tropical scenery. The next, last, day was a short walk, essentially backtracking to Mutton Cove, where we were met by one of those water taxis for an hour-long joyride back to our starting point—and one mighty fine beer.

Returning to Nelson before flying down to Te Anau, I headed out to Mountain Designs, bought a new pair of Keen Targhee Mids, which served very well for the rest of the trip, and then quartered the town, searching for more Moleskin to replace what I’d used up. It turns out they don’t really do Moleskin in New Zealand. (I’ve had the same problem in the UK. This strikes me as taking that stiff upper lip business a bit far.) I finally turned up two packages in a large pharmacy and took them to the counter. In my neck of the woods, similar packages hold three 4-5/8-inch x 3-3/8-inch rectangles of the stuff and cost $3.95 or so. I was gobsmacked to be asked for $25. Right: $12.50 (NZ) per packet. And I also discovered that each held only one pad. And that was the only Moleskin in Nelson, aside from that riding, I assume, in the packs of smarter Americans than I.


Alan Sloman said...

Never trust the locals for important stuff.

I am always amazed when I hear of other walkers' first-aid kits weighing a paltry few ounces when mine comes in at well over a pound...

I always have enough stuff though! Moleskin - you make trousers out of that, surely?

Mark Alvarez said...

Ha-ha, Alan. I actually once had a pair of moleskin breeches from Fishers of Keswick. Wore 'em with red sox. Spiffing.

Believe me, my first-aid kit never weighs a paltry few ounces. Sam splint anyone? Ace bandage?

And I had the regulation amount of Dr.Scholl's. I admit I'd forgotten that the other more-or-less English -speaking peoples atavistically use belly wool culled from slow-moving sheep.