I could hear what my day would be like before I could see it. Thumping on the roof of the van meant a wasted day. I pushed the curtain back and looked outside only to see the grey, bleak morning and rain drops splashing in puddles. My ever present, FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) twists my gut into a knot of frustration and irritation. What to do on a rain day?
As a desert rat, this is an issue I rarely face. When it did come along, it was almost something to celebrate; Leslie and I would pour a cup of tea or a glass of wine and sit on our covered front porch to watch a lightening show and smell the creosote soaking in its much needed water elixer. Here, rain comes and pours in sheets every few days or so. We have met a few locals, one claiming it is the “worst summer in my 77 years”. We have been dancing from East to West coasts trying to out wit the rain, but sometimes, it can’t be avoided and then what? What should you do to mitigate your fear of missing out when it is raining in the “outdoor adventure capital of the world?”
Because we have had several “adventure fails” over the last few days, this rain is inflaming my FOMO even more than usual. I know, I know you are saying “Poor Andrew” and rolling your eyes, but please try to sympathize with my vacation related problems. Let me set the scene:
I consider myself a seasoned explorer; I know it won’t all go as planned. My dad and I have been exploring new biking trails since I was 13 and this (~1995) was in a period before mountain biking had really taken off in Utah. We would read about a trail from an actual paper book, try to drive out and find the unmarked dirt path that went off into the woods or the desert. We would pedal 20 miles or so with the hope that we would find our way back to the truck. There were a few times we risked freezing to death after forging unexpected rivers late into the evening. But that was long ago. With the advent of the internet and Google Earth, we no longer forge new paths in unknown wilderness; every ride is a success.
We have not been quite so lucky here in New Zealand. The last few days, Leslie and I have struggled to find the wonderful places we read about. One “ride” consisted of pushing our bikes up a mountain, then walking them down the mountain, with a couple attempts to ride where I fell on my head and broke my helmet (which is better than my neck or collarbone…).
On the next ride attempt, the twenty mile drive to the trail head took three full hours over a narrow, steep, windy road, with sections that were crumbling off into the ocean a thousand feet below. We reached the trail head only to discover that the trail was closed to bikers this time of year. We scrapped that ride, drove the three hours back and headed to a campsite I had planned in Abel Tasman National Park.
The Abel Tasman camp site is described as beautiful and remote, located at the end of a long dirt road. It is supposed to be nestled at the base of steep mountains, on a soft sand beach. Leslie and I were both looking forward to this epic spot. It was not to be.
As the van slowly lumbered along, multiple cars sped past us on the wide spots, kicking up a cloud of dust in our faces. We come upon a jam of three cars with several barefooted men trying to push an old rustbucket off the road. This should have tipped me off. But once the car was removed from our path, we carried on. Suddenly, Leslie sees a glint of metal reflecting light in the valley below and we come to a stop in a line of cars. Leslie, being the wonderful wife that she is, stops short behind the last car and leaves us enough room to turn around. She is already suspicious. I get out of the car, dressed in my crisp collared wine-tasting golf shirt and kahakis, and approach the barefooted man standing outside his van in front of me. “What’s going on?” I ask.
“Oh, hey man!” The guy drones. “It’s the wellness festival! Eight days, and it’s going to be great.”
Inside I scream. “Oh yeah?” I say. An 8 day “wellness festival” in the wilderness and I have stumbled into it…. “What’s with the line of cars?” I ask.
“Oh, yeah. They are searching cars for alcohol. It’s not allowed. It’s cool, though. There’s a healing tent and local artists, it’s going to be epic.”
Inside, I scream again. Although land-bound for the moment, as a self-respecting sailor, I have my little van loaded to the gills with alcohol at all times. This is not acceptable! I am not going to be trapped out in the woods with hundreds of hippies for an 8 day, rainy mud fest without alcohol! The hairs on the back of my neck are screaming RUN! I hop back in the car – Leslie would later report – wild eyed and out of breath. In just the few minutes I have been talking with the guy there are about 20 more cars that have accumulated behind me, and the line in front of me has not moved at all.
I tell Leslie to turn the car around and get out of here ASAP. She wants to take a picture of the line of cars, but I am afraid that in that time more cars will show up and seal us into our alcohol-free, peace-and-love grave and tell her to just get the car moving. Leslie makes the three-point turn and we drive half off the road to be able to squeeze by the ever-growing line of cars. We spend the next half-hour squeezing by another hundred cars on what is essentially a one lane, dirt road with a cliff to our left and a sheer mountain slope to our right.
We finally make it back to the paved road and set our eyes on another camp site. The second we pull in, the same worry is back in my stomach. Lots of tents crammed into a small space, dreadlocks everywhere and shirts nowhere. My golf shirt sticks out like a sore thumb. I ask the guy if there is space for us. He takes one look at me, tips his dreadlocks to the side and says “sure, over there between those two cars.” I follow his pointing finger and see a space with maybe enough room for our van, but no more. Mind you this is not one of those nice free camp sites, no I will be paying $30 to spend the night crammed between a bunch of hippies. I tell Leslie to flee again.
“What do you have against hippies?” She asks, missing the obvious distinction between a shirtless, barefoot sailor and a shirtless, barefoot hippie.
She backs us out and we keep driving. Thank goodness the sun does not set here till after 9 PM. We find a place where for my $30 I have a solid 20’ between me and my dreadlocked neighbor. I settle down shakily with a beer in my hand to recover before I can make dinner. Hippies!
This string of failures did not end here. The next day we chose the only stretch of the "Great Taste Trail," with nothing to taste along the way. Wineries closed for a holiday, no Green lipped mussels lunches.
The day after, we rode our bikes 20 miles in the wrong direction (uphill, both ways), only to find we were not actually on the Dun Mountain Trail as planned. We returned to our campsite, recovered over lunch, then tried again. While the day was redeemed with another 20 mile ride up (and then back down again) along an old mining cart track, this did not alleviate my frustration with what can sometimes feel like wasted adventure time.
So, vacation struggles, yes. Now it is raining, and we live in a van. This is not a fancy motor home with couches to stretch out on and play a few games of Monopoly. This is a minivan with the back seats removed and a mattress on an elevated board. The best we could do is lay in there and read all day. I can’t even sit up straight. Fortunately, New Zealanders love their coffee, so there are several nice cafes in even the smallest of towns. We found the Courthouse Café an appropriate location to plug in the computers, get some flat whites and a steak and mushroom pie to enjoy while we suck down some free wifi. Here I sit, watching the rain pour down harder and harder. The beautiful vistas of green mountains and beachscapes are locked away under a cold, grey fog.