Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Only in New Zealand - I got lost and ended up on a farm.

Yesterday, all I wanted to do was go for a little walk.  The sun was out, the sky was blue, and frankly I didn't want to sit in my office hopelessly procrastinating on thesis-related work by checking Facebook status updates all day.

I decided that I should walk to Swampy Summit since I'd be running it as part of the Three Peaks race course in a few weeks.  I asked two friends if they were keen to join me, but they couldn't waver from their plans for the day to take me up on my last minute offer.  Hours later, I found myself in thick as hell gorse and thanking the high heavens that I hadn't successfully recruited some poor soul(s) to join me in my off track shenanigans.

My walk started out innocently enough.  I headed to the Pineapple Track and enjoyed exchanging greetings with people that I passed (especially those folks with dogs because I really miss having a dog around).  After an hour or so I turned towards Swampy Summit and was on my own to enjoy the peace and solitude.

Here's a very lame picture from the walk...there really wasn't much to see!

Now, I assure you that the rest of my walk didn't turn out according to plan not because my map was upside down (as friends have questioned).  See, I walked right past Swampy Summit because, apparently, it wasn't as spectacular as I had hoped it'd be... it must've blended into the scenery or something. I swear.  Or, maybe I was so caught up in singing "Walk Like a Panther" at the top of my lungs that I didn't notice the summit?  (Hey, no judging! I was 100% certain no one could hear me and the song is quite catchy.)

Anywho, long story short, I found myself getting rather annoyed that I had detoured to some dirt road underneath power lines.  Normally, this isn't an issue, but over the past several weeks the lecturer for my Biostatistics and Epidemiology class brought up power lines and cancer more than a few times while explaining recall bias - cancer patients may remember living next to power lines for three weeks back in 1987 while control cases can't remember the last time they meandered around anything with a high capacity for carrying electrical current.  Needless to say, I kept thinking that 20 years from now I will definitely remember this day walking under the power lines if I end up with some sort of medical anomaly.

My annoyance grew and I just wanted to be done with the walk.  I didn't want to turn around and backtrack over 2 1/2 hours worth of nondescript grassy trails, so I continued following the road and the power lines.  At the very least the dirt road would turn into a paved road that would lead me back into town, right?


Wouldn't you know... the dirt road ended abruptly and it seemed like I was going to have to turn around. *grumble*  In a last ditch effort to avoid making the walk any longer than it needed to be, I referred to my map and made a huge assumption that I knew exactly where I was.  I looked around and found something that looked like a path and made another huge assumption that it would lead me to the big blob on the map labeled "mud".  Once I got through that I'd just have to skirt around another blob of land labeled "private" before easily spotting the road to take back into town.

Being no stranger to a little adventure, I didn't think too much at first about the spikey gorse that enveloped the beginning of the path down the hill.  But, I took a few steps down the path and one small slip on wet leaves made me rethink my plan for a hot second.  After all, the hill was steep enough that another fall could send me tumbling through gorse for a solid 25 feet or so.

Suddenly, being in the office checking Facebook status updates didn't seem so bad compared to potentially becoming a human pincushion.

It was pure stubbornness that prevented me from turning around.  I'd managed my way through way worse situations, so this should be nothing!  I made my way down the hill by thoughtfully placing each and every step.  Surely, at this moment my friends would have been reconsidering their decision to come along if they had joined me on this walk!

Eventually, I reached a fence.  On one side was a huge field with a lone sheep sitting quietly under a tree and on the other side was more gorse infested woodsy stuff.  Here, I had two options: stick close to the fence and follow it around the perimeter of the field (while avoiding getting snagged by gorse) until I could get to a better spot to look down the hill and find a road to follow to town or hop the fence and do the same, but without the hinderance of creeping over/under/around gorse.

I really wanted to go with Option 2.  In front of me was a wooden step to enable me to get over the fence and I reasoned that there'd be another one somewhere.  Surely, the step wouldn't be there if they didn't want me in the field.

The problem here was that a) I was pretty sure it was an electric fence and b) the sheep that was sitting quietly in the shade started to go a little crazy.

While I was scanning the length of the fence to determine if I could stick close enough to it so that I wouldn't get caught up in gorse and stay far enough away to avoid electrocution the sheep stood up, walked around as if it was trying to figure out what I was doing and then started running around in a tight circle - a bit like when a dog chases it's tail.  Now, I'm not a sheep expert, but this behavior seemed a bit weird.

I took my chances and went up and over the fence.  Then the thought crept into my head - what will I do if the sheep charges at me?  Man, I should have checked if the fence was electric or not.  But, how was I supposed to test it?  If I spit on it would it sizzle?  Was I supposed to throw a stick at it and listen for a little zap!?  How does someone test an electric fence?!  I carried on nonetheless.

Not far down the field I found another section of fenced off field with a lot more sheep.  This made me think the sheep that was still running in circles was isolated in the sheepy version of an inpatient psychiatric unit "quiet room". Yipes!

I made my way over the next fence thinking I could probably get out of this field undetected and no one could blame me for setting off the "special" sheep.  But, gosh darn it, I kept starting mini stampedes as I passed small clusters of sheep.  I was certain that the farmer was somewhere on this property wondering what the hell was causing a couple hundred sheep to suddenly shift to the other side of the hill.

Finally, I crested the top of another hill and saw a road! Yaaaaaaaaaahoooooooo!  Only about three more fences to hop and I'd be home free... except all these fences surrounded a small house with kids yelling from inside.  It sounded a little chaotic in there - did I really want these kids to spot me and alert an adult that I was blatantly causing a commotion on their property?

You know... I recalled a time when my high school band teacher told us to make our mistakes loud because that's how we learn and get better.  I decided that I'd make myself really obvious.  I'd get someone's attention so that they could help me get off the property without climbing over more fences (they probably wouldn't be thrilled to catch a stranger trespassing and I was pretty sure I looked rather silly trying to avoid touching the wires just in case it was an electric fence) and then I'd vow to never again cut through a sketchy gorse infested path and never enter fields with crazy sheep.

So, that's when I started casually waving at the house, kind of like when you acknowledge a friend on the other side of the street.  I wanted to make a good first impression by coming off as a friendly lost person, not a panicky lost person.  A man on a motorbike came from one corner of the field and rode towards the house as I was waving.  He stopped, got off his bike, and looked at me.

I continued waving.

He rode up to me, said "G'day," and listened as I apologized for being on his property and explained that I took a bit of a wrong turn and ended up with the sheep because I was looking for a road back to town.  He wasn't pissed, but he wasn't impressed.

He told me to make my way through the two paddocks and over the last fence.  Then he confirmed my hunch that all the fences were electric.  I thanked him and scurried up and over the first two fences.  The last fence for some reason was higher than the rest, but there were two horizontal wooden posts that joined together in a corner and it looked like I could place my hands in the perfection position on them to push up high enough to place my knees on top of one of them.  Then all I'd have to do is push off my knees and get to the other side.

The man watched from up the hill as I tried very carefully not to get electrocuted in my fine china.  This was so embarrassing.

I managed to get over the fence.  Before hustling down the driveway, I turned around to give him two thumbs up.  I hope that he recognized that I was sticking up my thumbs...

My trip was just over 11 miles and took about 4 hours to complete.  Since I started at 10am there would be time to go home, take a shower and head to the office to do some work.  I couldn't fight back a smirk - I pictured bumping into my supervisor once I got back to the office and thinking you have no idea what happened to me today.

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