I am not sure what possessed me to think that sleeping in the back of my car would be a good idea. As it turns out, there’s a lot they don’t tell you in the movies.
Living out of the back of the car looks like such fun when you see a picture in a magazine or a scene in movie: in the background the blue ocean breaks onto a pristine beach and into a warm haze, surfboards sit ready on the roof racks, the happy campers enjoy a warm cup of coffee or cocoa and watch the sun set in magnificent colour, a foretaste of the fun-filled adventures ahead. It always looks perfect.
Without doubt, a big part of my decision to give it a go was born out of a desire to save money and enjoy the convenience of a home on wheels. Nevertheless, and perhaps more than I care to admit, there was that underlying desire to live carefree, to pull up to a beautiful location and rest there for a while.
What they don’t tell you in the movies is that there’s a lump that digs into your hip. And then there’s a sharp pointy thing that digs into your back, in that meaty bit between your shoulders. And that’s not to mention the weird angle you have to sleep at because the back seat won’t fold all the way down and does not sit flush with the boot floor. In short, I began to question the logic of my decision around 1:30am on Monday morning, just before I finally figured how to get comfortable enough to fall asleep.
Up to this point, the trip had been great. On Sunday, I’d driven down from Palmy to Wellington, caught the ferry, and found a quiet spot to camp near Pelorus Sound. It was dark and foggy with sheets of rain when I arrived and I couldn’t see much. Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised when I woke to the call of Tui and Bellbird, the rush of the nearby river, and post-rain freshness of mature native bush. It was a beautiful spot. I felt adventurous. Maybe this sleeping-in-the-car thing is not so bad after all, I thought, as I pulled out my cooker, fried up some eggs, toasted a gluten-free bagel, and breathed in the fresh air. Mornings are pretty good, camping out of your car.
I arrived in Christchurch on Monday evening and caught up with my mate Gerwyn. Last year, Gerwyn and I travelled to India and Nepal together and I had not seen him since. It was fantastic catching up with him over a beautiful dinner and a glass of wine, talking about trips and plans, pulling out maps and plotting routes. I was also deeply appreciative for the use of his spare bed — flat and bump free.
Tuesday morning, I cruised down to Macpac Head Office, based in Christchurch, and caught up with the awesome marketing team. The team at Head Office is always so friendly and it was great to talk and have a quick tour around. It was exciting to hear about some of the cutting-edge products and technologies on the horizon — I can’t wait to see them on the shelves!
Crossing Burkes Pass into Mackenzie Country, was astonishing. I’d left Christchurch, had a great lunch with friends in Timaru, and was cruising inland toward Tekapo. It is an amazing moment when the Alps comes into view. Big, white, and jagged, the Alps rises out of the gentle reds, browns, blues and greens of the shadow-caste tussock valley. It was the most delightful scene and I loved the contrast between the rugged peaks and soft tussock ridges, highlighted by the late, falling light. I arrived at Tekapo just as the sun was setting. I pulled the car over by the shore and enjoyed the warmth of my down jacket as I watched the sun set, filling the sky and painting the peaks with colour. It was beautiful — better than any picture in a magazine.
There is a great camping spot on the edge of Lake Pukaki, looking right up at Mt Cook. I decided not to stay in Tekapo but to press on to Pukaki. I wanted to chill out the next morning and enjoy the view, reading, drinking coffee, and resting.
Having finally figured out how to get comfortable in back of the car, I slept well and woke feeling fantastic. It was cold — below freezing, according to my car — and I was swimming in a thick fog, but felt toasty warm in my Macpac down sleeping bag. Despite the lack of view, it was precisely the perfect morning to just lie there and relax.
As much as I was reluctant to break the spell of comfort by crawling out of my bag, I could no longer resist that early morning call of nature: I had to go to the loo. I was in my thermals so I put on a jacket and my shoes and bounded outside, relishing the thought of sliding back into my sleeping bag. I closed the door of the car, took a few steps, and then realised that I had forgotten the loo paper. I turned back to the car but found the door wouldn’t open.
My heart fell through the soles of my shoes as I realised that I had accidentally locked the car last night. I quickly tried all the other doors and found that they too were locked. I felt my the pockets of my jacket, in hope that the keys were there. I felt only my phone. I looked inside the car and there were the keys, sitting on top of a box in the boot. Gutted.
I had my phone, thermal undies, shoes and a jacket — at least that is something, I thought as pranced around, trying to keep my legs warm. I pulled out my phone and looked at the time: 7:45am. Magazines never mention the risk of locking yourself out of your car in a remote location. Hollywood, I thought, never like real life.
I was thrilled when AA guy arrived about promptly after my call. I’ll be back inside my bag, relaxing, in no time, I thought.
“Would you believe it, but this is the first time I had ever locked my keys in the car,” I laughed, trying to make light of the situation.
“Bugger,” he replied as he scratched his head, looking at my car.
“Might take a while to get it, afraid to say.”
“Oh,” my heart sunk. “Why’s that?”
“These cars are beasts to get into — too much sophisticated technology.”
“Yup. People think it’s like the movies — easy. Well it’s not,” he said firmly.
He looked inside.
“Oh, um,” he scratched his head again. “Your bags are in the way. This is going to be hard, afraid to say. If we can’t get your keys, you’re pretty much screwed.”
I dug my hands into my armpits. The AA guy pulled out the tools of his trade and made a start.
Clunk. It was the central locking.
“Woohoo, we’re in!” I yelled as I gave the AA guy a high five.
“Oh man, it feels like winning the lotto!” I said, experiencing a rush of relief.
“I’d say! I was getting pretty close to giving up.” He laughed again and looked at this watch.
“Twelve-twenty. That took a bit over four hours. Man, that was a hard one!”
Happy and fully clothed after a massive lunch of eggs, lentils, bagels, and homemade aloo paratha (a spicy Indian potato pancake), I continued south to Queenstown.
I love the Lindas Pass. There is something very stately about Central Otago on a cool winter’s day. You see the stateliness in the way the light catches the bare branches of the old poplar rows, in the shadowy farm yards lined stone sheds, in the golden brush of afternoon sun on rocky outcrops and delicate tussocks. There is a sense of permanence in these scenes, of maturity and timelessness, and I find this deeply restful.
Even more restful was the amazing hotel room provided by the Queenstown Winter Festival. Equipped with a comfy bed and a beautiful view, I arrived and quickly went to be, resting up for the next day and the Macpac Pecha Kucha evening.
The Macpac Pecha Kucha evening was a blast. The evening comprised of ten presenters, each talking for a total of 6 minutes and 20 seconds. Presentations have 20 slides and each slide automatically advances after 20 seconds. It is a really fun format and energetic way to present, albeit hard to prepare for! I was surprised how difficult it was to boil a presentation down to such a concise few minutes. I also enjoyed the evening because of the great hearing from a whole variety of presenters: architects, sculptures, artists, photographers, and adventurers. The auditorium was packed and everyone seemed to have a good time.
I gave a presentation about my India-Nepal trip and climbing with MS. I didn’t fumble, which was great! It was fun reliving key moments and triumphs in my journey with MS. I hope that encouraged people to overcome the hurdles that prevent them from getting outdoors.
Currently, I am feeling a bit tired — still a bit worn out from the last couple of months of busyness — but I am slowly feeling better. Driving does tire me, so I am looking forward to basing myself around Queenstown and Wanaka for the next little while, resting up for my climb later in the month. It looks like there is some bad weather on the way, which presents a good reason to take it easy for a while.
On Saturday, I head to Wanaka for the NZ Mountain Film Festival, and for a few more nights in the boot of my car.
This time, I think I might hang my key around my neck.
Mastering Mountains Charitable Trust exists to enrich the lives of people affected by Multiple Sclerosis by helping them get outdoors. Please consider supporting the cause by donating through our Give-a-Little page. I am grateful for the continued support of Macpac and MitoQ.