Sunday, August 30, 2009

Sacks, Boats, and Clots!

In New Zealand, there are tons of things to do. Imagine the most extreme outdoor activity, and the Kiwis do it, only better. You could camp, tramp, bike and surf; kayak, snowboard, heli-ski and scuba dive. We didn’t do any of that stuff, but we did find the fence with all the bras on it.

We hiked of course. But you can only hike for so long before you say to yourself, “I wonder where the fence is with all the bras on it?” We’d looked for Hobbits and tried wine in the Marlborough region. I’d photographed mushrooms and ferns. We’d allowed bugs to feast on our flesh while we sipped wine by glacial lakes. What we needed was something more dangerous and appropriately extreme for New Zealand’s standards.

“How about a glacier hike?” says my partner. “It’s only 75 dollars.”

“I’m not paying to hike.”

“You have to sign a release form.”

“What. In case you’re injured—”

“Or killed.”

“Let’s do it.”

And so it came about that the next morning we showed up at 7:30 for the Franz Josef Glacier hike (lunch not included). I packed us two roasted turkey sandwiches on rosemary/sundried tomato bread, accented by a touch of fig mustard. We were going to rough it.

“Sign here and here,” said the woman behind the desk in the tourist office.

I read the release form twice. Yes, we could indeed die on this trip. Excellent. Or as the Kiwis say, “Sweet!”

“Sacks, Boats and Clots!” someone yelled from a big room to our left.

I stuck my head into the room, expecting the promised surreal scene implied by sacks and boats and clots. Instead, I saw the rest of our group getting ready for our death hike. One line for socks, one for boots, and one for cleats. Our Kiwi brethren must think we twist and bend vowels as much as we think they do.

We got in line and suited up with the enthusiasm of Amundsen and Byrd. My excitement began to wane, however, when we were all herded onto a bus like the nelly tourists we were.

“This isn’t going to be dangerous,” I said to my traveling companion. “They’re serving coffee. Oh, ma’am? Two creams please,” I said to the guide who was serving drinks and who, when our group split into two groups, turned out to be a great glacier hike guide. We didn’t get her.

Our guide couldn’t have been older than fourteen. He told lots of jokes. He also told us everything he knew about the glacier in the first ten minutes: it was ice and the ice was melting (that’s what that water was running off it). Oh, he told us other stuff, but I understood only about ten percent of it thanks to his interesting but perverse vowel enunciation. I got a few words: something about snow and cold and “sweet” this and “sweet” that—

“When’s it gonna get dangerous?” I heard myself yell as I watched the other group towering high above us on the glacier.

For an hour we hiked on pre-chiseled trails. There were actual stairs carved into the ice with cables spiked into the ice like handrails. I expected to see a Starbucks around the next serac. One of our hiking companions was dressed for a day at the mall. I was feeling cheated. The bra fence would have been more fun.

Ultimately, the glacier hike turned out to be delightfully dangerous thanks to our guide’s incompetence, which he admitted at the oddest times. I’m one of those tour participants who stays right next to the guide the entire time (a holdover from my days as the teacher’s pet). Once, as our child-guide was cutting a new path through the ice, he slipped and chided himself, “Where the f*** are we?”

Soon we were crawling up slippery faces of blue ice, leaping over crevasses and smirking at the terror on one another’s faces as our guide told us (a joke about?) an Australian tourist who had died leaping over a crevasse the week before. Finally, real Kiwi danger. For a moment, I was lost in a prehistoric age of ice.

And I have the pictures to prove it.

To continue with I Must Be Off! A-Z, go to O is for Odessa.

I must be off,


 Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), an episodic adult cartoon about a man struggling with expectations. Allen's award-winning fiction and non-fiction have appeared or are forthcoming in SmokeLong Quarterly's Best of the First Ten Years anthology, Prime Number Magazine, The Best of Every Day Ficton, Pure Slush, Bootsnall Travel and Chicken Soup for the Soul. A finalist at Glimmer Train in 2011, Allen has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize twice. He is the managing editor of the daily litzine Metazen. Recently, Allen--along with editors Michelle Elvy and Linda Simoni-Wastila--hosted Flash Mob 2013 in celebration of International Flash Fiction Day.