Apr 13

Anabel Jane Williams

She procrastinated a bit, but she arrived.

It’s odd having a date in your mind, a date completely life-altering, come and go. For 9 months, we thought about March 27 — the day our baby girl would be born. But March 27 came and went, without a new little human in the world, and nothing really changed at all. It’s almost like planning a wedding, then, when it gets near, telling people, “It might be a few weeks — we’ll let you know.” But now the 27th is just another date in March, because our little one was born April 3 at 12:54am. 

Meghan was a champ. I mean, I know this girl is tough — I’ve seen her tramp weeks on end in the Annapurna Mountains with hardly a complaint, finish a yoga teacher training class while planning a wedding and working full-time, hammering through hundreds of hours of clinical hours while completing her Masters (again while working full-time) and being pregnant to boot. I’ve seen her dominate the Courage Classic, a 180-mile bike race over Vail Pass. But I’ve never seen anyone handle something like this - natural labor - with such focus, determination, and grace. She was in active labor for about 6 hours, in varying degrees of difficulty, and when it was all said and done, Meg had done it all naturally and we had a sweet, healthy, 7lb 13.5oz baby girl. 

As is the custom at Mountain Midwifery Center, we went home just five hours after delivery on a beautiful, dark snowy morning. The spring storm left 5 or so inches on the ground as we carried out our baby girl in her new car seat, wrapped in a blanket, taking her first nap in the fresh Colorado air.

Along with Meg’s mom and sister, we were fortunate to have wonderful staff with us that evening, as well as a fantastic doula named Barbara, who was especially helpful in active labor at our house before we left. 

It took us a couple days to settle on a name — such an epic responsibility to give a person a name, a name they will have for life. What if Apple Computer had been named Mango Computer? I mean, I’m not comparing her to a multinational corporation, only saying that names have power. I had so many thoughts for each name we had on the list - what profession it sounded like, how people would say it or not say it, what nicknames people would use, how she would write it, where people would think she’s from seeing it on paper, whether she would like it, and if it would suit her personality.

A million different scenarios played out for each one in the first couple days, and I, prone to over-analyzing, just couldn’t help myself.

We finally gave her the name Anabel Jane Williams, meaning ‘lovable gift from God.’ The name gives homage to Meg’s grandma, Anna, and also to her mom (JoAnn), my sister (Joanna), and my grandma (Jean). Looking at her, we know it fits. 

In the first couple of days, we had a ton of visitors drop off food, support us, and give love to baby Anabel. It is certainly times like this that make us feel so grateful to have such wonderful friends and family. 

Nearly three years in to marriage, and a combined 57 years on earth, Meg and I have brought a new life onto the pale blue dot. The next adventure begins. 


Jan 17

A baby on the way

“I love these little people; and it is not a slight thing when they, who are so fresh from God, love us.” -Charles Dickens

"I have a chronic case of Walter Mitty syndrome…I am constantly foiling imaginary bank robbers and enemies. I waste hours every day envisioning a life far more dramatic, far more macho, than the sedate circumstances in which I usually exist.

That’s part of the reason why I wanted to start a family. When you start a family, you’re signing up for drama. You’re signing up for worry. You’re signing up for life-and-death. You’re signing up for a life that means something more, even if it isn’t as fun a life as when you were single and drinking Coors in the Giants Stadium parking lot. Kids make your life significant. They give your life a spine.” - Drew Magary, Someone Could Get Hurt

We’re having a baby. 

My good buddy Marcus Naramore recently gave me a book on “21st century parenting” from a writer at Deadspin, and the quote above made me laugh really hard - it’s perfectly suited to me. It may not quite capture the feelings of Meghan, but I know for most new dads, the above rings true. 

We’re expecting towards the end of March - the 27th to be exact. When I mentioned the date to a coworker, she said: “Oh, nice…an Aries!” which I didn’t really understand. All I know is that sometime in the next 10 weeks, Meg and I are going to be parents of a brand-new human; a precious baby girl. 

Meg is now at 30 weeks - the cutest pregnant lady I’ve ever seen and the hardest-working woman I know. She is working as a resource nurse for the Heart Institute at Children’s Hospital and finishing up her NP degree from CU Denver. She’s done an amazing job balancing it all, and has even been accepted into a nursing honor society for her grades and effort in the program. But I have to say - we’re stoked for May when she finishes everything up. I am, indeed, a lucky man.

As for me, I’m working as Marketing Director of TEDxMileHigh and loving the work. We have five amazing events and substantial programming scheduled for 2014, but more important is the caliber of individuals I work with at the organization - they inspire me daily.   

And as for the baby - I’m enormously, immensely excited. I’m also anxious, nervous, and, at times, rather exhausted thinking about what exactly I need to do. From what I’ve heard, this is normal for a first-time dad - as it is for a first-time mom. There’s a million thoughts going through my brain simultaneously, and anyone who knows me knows that I’m better off sticking to one task at a time. 

This life we’re signing up for - this life of drama, of laughter, of worry, of joy, of sorrow - is beautiful and significant. This new aspect of life we’re signing up for arrives on March 27.  


Aug 04

Recently…

It’s been 14 months since we returned from traveling back to Denver. This may also be the last time I use traveling as a life marker. It’s interesting how people use certain events to measure distance and time in their lives. The time each milestone, or marker, lasts depends on the situation, but it seems like every couple years there’s a new line in the sand from which all subsequent time is measured. Big events can be stacked, but there’s almost always one that’s the deepest, the most relevant, the most impactful.

Our time in the last few months has been taken by a combination of school and work, especially for Meg who is putting in an unbelievable amount of energy into each. She is an amazing doer. No, an amazing accomplisher. She can’t help but do everything excellently, with all her energy, to finish always a job well done. I’m extraordinarily proud of her.

Meg also recently competed in the Courage Classic, a race that raises money for the Childrens Hospital. With her sweet new Bianchi, she and a few close friends from work (Kate Dodt, Jen Alpern) did over 150 miles in the mountains over three days, including climbing over 5 passes of 10000ft each. I went to bring more cowbell, and supported their awesomeness as they dominated Summit County.  

I’m one year into my job at TEDxMileHigh. For me, I haven’t had nearly the kind of busyness that Meg has had, but starting a new job in a new industry, at an organization with a startup mentality, run by a core team of 4, has been challenging. It’s pushed me in areas that highlight both my strengths and weaknesses, and I couldn’t be happier to have that type of position: one that is never boring, has room for growth, and allows me to learn daily. And if I’m not learning, it’s my own fault. 

Whether life is busy, or slow, the following quote is always on my mind, and I leave you with this: 

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat." - Teddy Roosevelt


Mar 10

Winter. Last year, we missed it. This year, made the most of it. Photos above are from our trip to Jackson/Yellowstone. 


1
Feb 10

It was one of the best autumns, maybe ever.  

I’m no historian, but I bet this was one of the prettiest, longest-lasting periods of fall that Colorado has ever experienced. Amazing—- and we took advantage.

We ran the Golden Leaf Half Marathon, took a road trip to Crested Butte with our good friends Adam and Mary, and soaked up the colors for a couple of months, heading to the mountains almost every weekend to indulge.

It gets in your blood, the colors do. It’s addictive to see the mountains lit up in every shade of red, yellow, and orange. It’s an all-consuming fire that burns only passion and envelopes only hearts and minds. 


Jan 27

We arrived back to the USA to family at the end of May, 2012.  After over 10 months of travel and honeymooning, spanning 8 countries, hundreds of miles trekked, and incalculable stories, we were picked up at LAX by Meghan’s sister Katie, her husband Ty,  and their little boy, Wyatt.

We were tired. But there couldn’t have been a better situation than landing to a place where we instantly felt so comfortable, connected, and relaxed.  It was a long time coming, but we were with family.  I can’t remember exactly how many days we were there—it was a blur—-but I do remember eating delicious meals, getting phones and running errands, being blown away at the excessive street advertising, and getting ready for life in Denver. The Fowlers were amazingly gracious hosts, and our transition back to the US was infinitely smoother and easier because of them.  

The summer was nuts. 

Although I would recommend a year of globetrotting with your new spouse, I wouldn’t recommend coming back the way we did with the pressure, stress, and anxiety that it carried. 

Summer bullet points: 

  • Meg went to Ohio for a wedding after CA, Micah to CO
  • Reunited with Gracie 
  • Micah attended TEDxMileHigh the following day and started teaching for 3 weeks—-summer science remediation for troubled 7th graders. Didn’t know his ass from his elbow as far as science goes.  
  • Moved two times in three months, not counting move back to US.  Housing market in Denver=slammed. 
  • Meg started work, school full-time (again)
  • Attended a combined 7 weddings, in 4 of them
  • Micah searched for work, landed a job at TEDxMileHigh

After months of traveling by car through NZ, living simply and quietly, camping on the beach next to rolling waves in the moonlight, we had returned to chaos. More than anything, we weren’t absolutely prepared to take in so much so soon, and it was exhausting. In many ways it was an amazing summer—-I loved catching up with many of college buddies at weddings and was honored to participate, we eventually found a great little duplex in a perfect location in Denver, I found a job I love, Meghan got her job back at the hospital….we felt blessed, but we felt exhausted.  And sometimes, that’s an okay place to be. 


Dec 02

The Last Three Weeks in May-Auckland

This blog, and our year abroad, would never be complete if we didn’t mention how we spent the last three weeks of our time in New Zealand.  

After camping in Spirits Bay, and moving down to the Bay of Islands, Meghan and I were running low on funds, without jobs or a place going back to the US, and unsure about how we could spend the next three weeks of our lives in New Zealand.  I knew a friend from John Brown University that was now living in Auckland with her husband, so I gave her a ring, hoping that they would be kind enough to put us up for a couple days in the city while we adjusted and figured out our return home. 

Instead of a couple days, they invited to stay until our departure. Spending three weeks with Emily and Erlo Jones was, without a doubt, one of our most shining memories of New Zealand.  We were worn out and tired, having traveled 20K+ miles, and they took us into their home, and into their lives, for those three weeks. I’ve rarely experienced the kind of hospitality, generosity, friendship, and humanity that were showed to us during that time in May.  Erlo and Emily continued to go to work during the week, but allowed us to use their home as a base to search for jobs, find housing upon our return, and relax as we transitioned from travel back to life in the US. They ate with us, took us to their favorite vineyards, showed us around Auckland, and watched movies with us. They showed us where we could go to hike in the rainforest just west of the city, how we could spend our free time, and made sure we were always comfortable.  They had also traveled extensively, and understood that bringing people in is one of the most amazing gifts someone can give.  

We had a lot of experiences in New Zealand of amazing hospitality, but Emily and Erlo showed us a deeper level invitation—they showed us love. 

During the last three weeks, with wifi in the house and Emily and Erlo’s goodwill, I was able to solidify a short-term teaching position from New Zealand upon my arrival to Denver. Meghan got her job back at the Children’s Hospital, and we found housing through a friend of mine. And we didn’t have to do it from some crazy hostel in downtown Auckland. 

Three weeks is a long time to share your life with a couple that you barely know. Emily and Erlo did it with grace, without self-interest, and out of love.  We couldn’t be more grateful for our time that we shared with them, how much they let us in, and the friendship that was built. 


Aug 27

Meditation, of the Vipassana order, didn’t suit us.  So we headed out immediately, to the desolate, strikingly beautiful area north of Auckland called Northland.  In Northland, the towns are few and dotted, and the landscape is ocean and sand.  The dense rainforests of west Auckland faded as we pressed on. 

The first night after the meditation, we slept curtly curled in the Concerto on the grey cotton seats, cold and wary, but happy to be together.  I tossed and turned, but I suppose I slept as well as one could have after a bent, short night in a small car—-I think both Meghan and I felt a sort of relief just to be away from the meditation center.  We awoke to a stunning orange sunrise, burning up the dark of the night and dousing Bream Bay in every color imaginable. A perfect beginning to a new day outside of Vipassana. 

We decided we’d go as far north as possible—-so we drove passed the small village of Waipu, through the bustling but terribly boring city of Whangarei, passed the Bay of Islands, and into the area known as Ninety Mile Beach.  Ninety Mile Beach is a narrow stretch of land (and a misnomer—-it’s really only 55 miles long) that runs north until the northernmost point of New Zealand.  It’s supposedly a famous tourist attraction, but, like many other places in New Zealand, nearly untouched.  

We continued north until Spirit’s Bay—-one of the most stunning areas in New Zealand—-where we camped on a large patch of grass 50 meters from the sea.  We ate warm soup and sandwiches, snacked on chips, and played cards after reading a couple sections of the bible.  We ended up staying on the beach the entire next day and night, and finally left on the third day.  I can hardly remember what we did during those few days, but it was perfectly relaxing and a great final camping experience in New Zealand.  Our phones were dead, our camera out of battery, so we didn’t take a single photo.  The picture of spirits bay above is one I found on the internet to remind myself what it looked like, but the credit is not mine.  

After relaxing a couple days, we drove south to the Bay of Islands, one of the most recognizable spots in all of NZ, where it poured on us for two straight days.  No matter, we took in a couple of relaxing nights in the town (and in a bed) before we headed back to Auckland.  


Vipassana

It’s May 2nd and I’m sitting cross-legged with a taupe fleece blanket covering my head, my feet, and my identity. From the outside, I am a chess-piece, wooden and lifeless.  Inside, my knees ache from hours of acute angles and rigid posturing, my back upright and still, chin lifted and eyes closed. In the dimly-lit hall, 70 other pawns silently sit on a chess board of blue mats, legs crossed and identities equally shawled. There are enough people in the room to field 7 baseball teams, yet the only audible sound is the muted inhale and exhale from an indiscriminate few. I open my eyes for an instant and glance around the room. It’s more oil painting than reality, surreal beyond a sunny day in Northern Auckland, and my heart is racing with anxiety.



A token Indian voice comes on the speaker and tells me to ‘reemain avhare, avhare’ of the breaths entering and exiting my nostrils as we finish out the session. ‘Patiently and persistently,’ he whispers, ‘and you are(d) bound to be successful, bound to be successful.’

After nearly 300 miles trekking, 17,000 miles in the air, and 8,000 on the pavement, we needed a break. We traveled to 8 countries in 9 months and toured New Zealand from top to bottom.  We have learned organic farming and gardening techniques. We’ve juiced. We’ve watched sheep being sheered. In a few weeks, the United States would beckon in the all the ways we love and hate, by way of that wonderful catch-all of civilization: LA. So when we caught word of a 10-day silent retreat in northern Auckland, we jumped on it. It would be a perfect way to still our minds before Lady Liberty tips her torch in our faces to test our grit on the world’s stage.

We heard about Vipassana meditation from a friend of ours in Lake Hawea, near Wanaka. It was founded by an Indian named SN Goenka, who has been teaching the technique since the 60s. He is now world-famous and does teaching in all parts of the globe.

Vipassana is meant to be ‘non-sectarian,’ universal in utility, and grounded in nothing more than the individual and reality itself. We are Christians, so a 10-day retreat that isn’t based on God’s word sounded unusual, if not heretical. Even so, we prayed on it, talked about it, and even read reviews from other Christians expressing their thoughts and feelings on the practice. After all was said and done, we decided to go for it. It would be ten days to pray, to listen, to quiet our minds, and hopefully learn something new.

The retreat is set in locations all around the world, and is supposedly run completely on donations. Their conference building near Auckland is set in a beautiful little valley and is quite modern and clean with extremely good facilities for being 100% reliant on the generosity of past students.

Each student who attends the course gets their own private room, which is basic, but clean. During the course, one must follow a very strict policy of no talking, reading, or writing of any kind. For ten days, students must be silent, austere, and practice up to 10 hours of mediation per day, starting with a 4:00am wake up call for first session at 4:30am, finishing in a 9:30pm session in the evening.

In accordance with the rules, Meghan and I were disallowed from talking with one another, and we also had to refrain from eye contact of any kind. I wink at Meghan like twice a day, so this was, at the bare minimum, a challenge of self-control. The point of the retreat is a complete disconnect from society, for 10 days, to renew the mind through nothing more than heightened awareness.

We lasted two full days. It turned out that the techniques taught were extremely useful in quieting my mind, but completely against the belief that I have in Christ as my savior. Buddhism is about reaching enlightenment by practicing goodwill, being gentle, and working to ‘know thyself’ through hours and hours of meditation and self-reflection. The methods we were taught in the two days are not intrinsically wrong, but their ultimate goal is. The goal is to eventually become your own Buddha, to find heaven within yourself, to save yourself from the world.

From the beginning, we were determined to test our mettle and stick out the 10 days, but by the end of the second, Meghan and I made the decision, separately, to leave. Neither Meghan nor myself returned for the final session on the evening of day two because we were both so convicted about what exactly we were doing there. So we told our ‘managers’ and sat down together in a small room to discuss with a more enlightened middle-aged male who was a Goenka trainee and leader at the Auckland Vipassana. Without speaking or winking, Meghan and I had both made the decision to leave, and were going to tell the other as soon as we could. Yet we ended up being in the same room, and told the guy that our faith was in Christ, not in ourselves, and that we need not save ourselves from the world when we have faith in God.

Knees aching, we lifted ourselves up and drove away with no place to go but away. We ended up sleeping in Colin the Concerto that night, but despite the tough sleeping arrangement digs, we slept peacefully knowing we made the right decision to cut short our days at Vipassana. Reflecting on the previous two days, I firmly believe that Vipassana can only truly be for Buddhists. People of other faiths have something to learn, but will struggle keeping everything in line.


Milford to Nelson

The Milford was the beginning of an end for Micah and I in the South Island of NZ. It’s a bit sad really. We have grown attached to the ever changing scenery that has enchanted us the past few months and the people that go with it. A week and a half from departing Milford Sound we knew we would be boarding the Interislander with the unknown of when we might return to the South Island.

For one short night we recovered from our tramp and in true Heather Wilkins form we were welcomed with lasagna fresh out of the oven. (tea “just happened” to be ready over an hour after the usual dinner time this night). Just in time for Steve’s birthday we were privileged to participate in a small birthday breakfast and the talk surrounding his new, old Ford truck just in from the Sunshine State. For the first time in NZ we had to say “goodbye,” not “see you later.” It was hard to walk away knowing we may not see them again. Heather was our mom away from home…her intuitive, observant and kind soul took care of us with conversation, hot drinks and delicious dinners. Steve was no less like a father helping Micah change the oil in our car and offering tips for resale. They took in two weary American travelers and the depths our thanks they may never know.

With quivering lips we headed towards New Zealand’s largest mountain: Mt. Cook. As much as Micah would have loved to climbed all 3,754 meters of it we were forced to continue driving, but snapped enough pictures to make one believe we spent hours there. The drive was markedly one of the most beautiful we have had. Nothing but blue skies with still lakes mirroring the ever changing colors of the fall trees—-it was breathtaking.

After a long night at Lake Tekapo being kept awake by ridiculously loud male-gendered individuals we grabbed a coffee and set off puffy eyed for the shaken city of Christchurch. We were grateful to be staying with two sets of Denver couples-Bryan & Erin and Noah & Kate. Both couples worked at a camp that Micah also worked at one summer called Eagle Lake. Funny part is none of them knew each other back in Denver…I’m telling you, New Zealand is a SMALL country! We learned a lot about the 2011 earthquakes in the two days we were there. We meandered through the streets once jiving with live music, good eateries and young ins, now barackaded, shattered and on sinking ground-literally. It was so sad to see how much of the city has been shut down, torn down or is awaiting its turn. Houses still hang off the sides of cliffs and flat roads have been turned into rolling hills. We even attempted to explore some museums that survived the shakes but learned that they too have been closed after their last inspection…deemed unstable. The glory is in the people who have stayed to fight the good fight and rebuild the city- even if it takes three decades. The man who people wondered if they would ever see singing outside the cathedral again has relocated and his voice is still heard. You see, people are resilient and these moments tear apart but they also unite those who remain. Unfortunately the other thing that remains are the aftershocks. We felt a 3.9 quake late at night as we were looking at pictures of the rubbish with Noah and Kate. It was enough to make my heart race but such a small shake for locals. An earthquake is a terrifying event and the aftershakes are terrifying, constant reminders of that tragic day.

Next stop was Kaikoura. The not-to-be-missed part of the south island that we saved for last stop. This is the place where we get to swim with the Dusky Dolphins. I have to say there was a lot of build up to this event. It’s not easy to save your “splurge” for 5 months into your holiday and there were many times I debated giving up on the dolphins to indulge in other things but that would have been a BIG mistake. This is the highlight of our trip and quite possibly one of the highlights of my life…yes, it was that great. This is no ordinary get in the pool with trained dolphins event. We were dropped off the back of a boat in the ocean where hundreds of dolphins choose to live because of the abnormally deep coves with lots of good eats close to the shore. Once we entered the water in our scuba suits and snorkel masks we were responsible for the amount of interaction we had with the dolphins. They are wild, they are not fed and they just might not want to be your friend. Fortunately, Micah and I are pretty fun folk and the dolphins enjoyed our singing. Hundreds of them- flipping, diving and playing all around us. At times they would engage eye contact and mimic your behavior. We were not allowed to touch them but so many of them rubbed bellies with, swam circles with me and at one point even had a bit of a staring contest! Absolutely. Unbelievable. We enjoyed this for over three hours and to be honest I could do it everyday. Cold ocean water is not nearly as daunting when there are dolphins to play with.

With smiles plastered on our faces like small children at Christmas we headed to Hanmer Springs for some adult r&r in the natural hot springs. A relaxing last stop before we rolled into our old residence. We will spend our last couple of days in Nelson catching up with “old” friends before we say goodbye to the South Island.


The Milford Track

Milford Sound is one of those odd places in the world that everyone has heard of, without actually knowing anything about. I always wanted to go there, and actually didn’t understand why. Same with space. And the great wall. And Stonehenge. Yet Meghan and I were determined to do what I had heard was ‘the finest walk in the world’ from the very beginning of the trip.

The Milford Track covers about 55km of terrain over four (three full) days through varied terrain. It was called the ‘finest walk in the world’ by a journalist from the UK in the early 1900s who had never even been, yet produced some truly excellent yellow journalism-turned-marketing heroics for NZ. And it has stuck. NZ still uses the tagline on their brochures, marketing efforts, and informational guidebooks.

All that to say, we had high expectations for the Milford on day one. We knew that the Fiordland area receives well over 300 days of rain per year, so we were prepared to walk through the rain, but were hoping for sunshine. We did the Routeburn track almost completely soaked, and it was incredible…once.

The track starts by crossing lake Te Anau, NZ’s largest (by water volume) freshwater lake. So fresh, in fact, that boat driver told us we could just fill up our water bottles from the lake after exiting. From the lake. Without filtering. This is when NZ feels like 10000 BC, without the giant Moas.

After crossing the lake, it was a short jaunt to the first hut, where we unloaded a had a snack. We met a few people that first night who became friends—-a couple from Australia, a girl from San Diego, and others from New York, Ireland, and Germany. The cool thug about the track is that you have to go one direction, so the people you are there with on the first day are also there with you on the last.

That night, a cousin of TreeBeard and the local ranger took us on a flora and fauna walk near the hut. Hugely informational, this ex-truck driver was well versed on everything from fungus to birds to moss and groundcover.

The next day was a relatively easy walk of about 5 hours, without much elevation gain, to the next hut. The forest was gorgeous and, in classic Milford style, was lush, green, and mossy beyond belief.

The third day was the longest and most memorable of the four. We started out hiking in thick fog, a depressing sign considering this would be the most beautiful of all days. We were freezing cold at the top shelter and hung out for about 1hr hoping the weather would clear. The other 35 people decided to move on over the pass, and within 20 minutes the sky cleared like a Sigur Ros video, clouds dancing past the pass in a flurry of emotion. It was stunning.

After taking photos, we went down the pass with our crew and made it to Southerland Falls, the 5th highest in the world. The third day ended up being about 10 hours, but it was a perfect combination of low-key and breathtaking.

On the fourth day, we headed out for about 5 hours to the final boat to Milford from sandfly point. The boat was only about 15 minutes, but it passed by some of milford’s most glorious sights. We finished with a beer from the dock, and threw up a toast for one of the worlds finest walks. And decidedly so.


GoldRush

We said our farewells to the Wilkens family, the sheep, and the farmland of Athol and headed north to Wanaka after a week of WWOOFing on the farm. We had scheduled another WWOOFing in a few days but were going to hang out with our friend Kate to watch a multi sport race in the Central Otago region called the Goldrush. 

Kate had wwoofed for the Donovan family who, along with a friend from Nelson, were going to tackle the three-day event with their two hilarious young boys—-their biggest supporters.

We were their ‘support crew’ which meant we rode with them as they passed through their various events, watched the kids as they passed jerseys, carried kayaks out of the water, and drank wine on our downtime. It was our first taste of the Central Otago region and we loved it—-vast blue Montana-esque skies, golden hillsides lined with the colors of a hundred autumn cypress trees, plenty of warm sunshine, and a backdrop of heroic snow covered mountains. 

We spent three days on support with Kate, making our way all around the Otago region—-from Alexandra to Ophir to the poolburn reservoir, through Cromwell, Clyde, Luggate, and Albert Town.  The race was a success and so much fun to watch—everyone had a blast and it definitely pumped Meghan and I up to do races in Colorado when we return.

GoldRush

We said our farewells to the Wilkens family, the sheep, and the farmland of Athol and headed north to Wanaka after a week of WWOOFing on the farm. We had scheduled another WWOOFing in a few days but were going to hang out with our friend Kate to watch a multi sport race in the Central Otago region called the Goldrush.

Kate had wwoofed for the Donovan family who, along with a friend from Nelson, were going to tackle the three-day event with their two hilarious young boys—-their biggest supporters.

We were their ‘support crew’ which meant we rode with them as they passed through their various events, watched the kids as they passed jerseys, carried kayaks out of the water, and drank wine on our downtime. It was our first taste of the Central Otago region and we loved it—-vast blue Montana-esque skies, golden hillsides lined with the colors of a hundred autumn cypress trees, plenty of warm sunshine, and a backdrop of heroic snow covered mountains.

We spent three days on support with Kate, making our way all around the Otago region—-from Alexandra to Ophir to the poolburn reservoir, through Cromwell, Clyde, Luggate, and Albert Town. The race was a success and so much fun to watch—everyone had a blast and it definitely pumped Meghan and I up to do races in Colorado when we return.


If you spent any weekends at the Kerr household growing up you would remember that like clockwork we ate pancakes on Saturday mornings. It was one of my favorite traditions and occasionally we still get Charlie K in the kitchen to cook for his grown girls when we are home.  Here in NZ we have missed home cooked breakfast but recently discovered the NZ version of pancakes. Dad, maybe I’ll treat you to breakfast (or brunch) when I get home :)

Pikelets:

1c flour
1t baking powder
1/4t salt
1 egg
1/4c sugar
3/4c milk

Sift flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl.
In another bowl beat egg and sugar until thick.
Add with milk to sifted ingredients.
Mix until combined. 
On a hot, lightly greased griddle or non stick pan drop 1 T of mixture. Turn when bubbles start to burst- cook other side to golden brown. 

Serve with jam and freshly beaten cream 
**whip cream is not common on this sided of the world…pour cream or whole milk into a bowl and cream using a hand mixer in high to make a healthier version of whip cream :)

Recipe makes 8-10 pikelets

If you spent any weekends at the Kerr household growing up you would remember that like clockwork we ate pancakes on Saturday mornings. It was one of my favorite traditions and occasionally we still get Charlie K in the kitchen to cook for his grown girls when we are home. Here in NZ we have missed home cooked breakfast but recently discovered the NZ version of pancakes. Dad, maybe I’ll treat you to breakfast (or brunch) when I get home :)

Pikelets:

1c flour
1t baking powder
1/4t salt
1 egg
1/4c sugar
3/4c milk

Sift flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl.
In another bowl beat egg and sugar until thick.
Add with milk to sifted ingredients.
Mix until combined.
On a hot, lightly greased griddle or non stick pan drop 1 T of mixture. Turn when bubbles start to burst- cook other side to golden brown.

Serve with jam and freshly beaten cream
**whip cream is not common on this sided of the world…pour cream or whole milk into a bowl and cream using a hand mixer in high to make a healthier version of whip cream :)

Recipe makes 8-10 pikelets


Camping, Curio Bay and the Concerto

After two weeks at The Nook indulging in freshly harvested organic meals we headed off towards the south east coast of New Zealand… with pb&j and canned soup served hot from the hatch of the Concerto back on the menu. Our first stop was the Moeraki Boulders. Large spherical stones that formed a few 60 million years ago in ancient sea floor sediment and have been revealed as the cliffs along the shoreline have eroded. Resembling…

Further down the Otago Coast we landed in Dunedin, the City flooded with uni students and buildings that are told to resemble Edinburgh. It was far from Edinburgh but does have some charm of its own. The old rail station building in the center of town is the most photographed building in NZ (we are proud to be part of that statistic now) and the cafe culture always wins us over. The better part of our time in this area was spent on the Otago Peninsula hoping to spot a Royal Albatross. Unfortunately, we saw no 40 year old fuzzy white bird spreading all 9 meters of it’s wingspan overhead but grew in appreciation of their rarity all the same.

We ended our time near Dunedin at Tunnel Beach. A steep and fairly long walk through a paddock, open to the public only out of lambing season, leads to the tunnel that granted this beach it’s name. In the 1870’s a local politician commissioned a small tunnel that leads from the top of the cliff down to the shoreline for his family. On this day we reaped the benefits having access to a crisp golden beach surrounded by huge limestone cliffs.

The highlight of this trip for us was when the canned soup came in to play. It was during this time we road tripped through the very southern part of the south island called The Catlins. The scenic drive entails endless views of rolling green paddocks covered in sheep or large white cliff faces extending upward from white capped ocean water depending on which part of the hill you’re driving. We braved the cold autumn air for two nights at our now favorite NZ campsites: Purakaunui Bay and Curio Bay. Purakaunui is located fifteen minutes down a dirt road that ends in a quiet little bay with waves that lap against the shore and a clear sky for stargazing. This was the first campsite we have been able to have a fire and we took advantage. The following day we traveled further south to Curio Bay to camp along a more abrasive shoreline. Here we explored a petrified forest and met our first penguins! The yellow eyed penguins are the rarest in the world and just happen to nest 400 meters from where we set up camp. Showing no fear of humans one of the penguins put on a bit of a show for us flapping his wings in what seemed to be a pose for our camera. We left the area feeling quite satisfied, ready to shower and nearly ready to head to Milford Sound for “the finest walk in the world!”


Lake Hawea is situated just northeast of Lake Wanaka, and is a smaller, sleepier, and more mellow version of it’s bigger brother to the south. Lake Wanaka is fast becoming an international adventure destination to the likes of Queenstown, as it is situated just below Mt Aspiring national park and surrounded by the all the rugged beauty of the central Otago landscape. See Outside article here: http://www.outsideonline.com/adventure-travel/australia-pacific/new-zealand/Best-New-Adventure-Hub.html

Lake Hawea, however, is 15-20 minutes of the beaten path, but is possibly more stunning, despite the diminutive size of the township. We had made arrangements to Wwoof here at lake Hawea at a little place simply called ‘The Nook.’

The Nook is, in actuality, a nursery, run by the Urqhart family. I knew little to very little, bordering on nothing, of nurseries besides the mother goose kind. This was the plant kind, a nursery dedicated to dishing out the best in native bush—-flowers, fruit trees, decoratives, even your odd fig tree—-to the surrounding landscaping professionals and green thumbers of the Wanaka region.

We putted our Honda Concerto up the dirt drive and were happily greeted by Anna and her 11 month old daughter, Matilda, hanging out in a carry backpack and welcoming us with a mouthful (and bib full) of toothed apple pieces. They invited us inside to sit down for the first of many home cooked, vegetarian, nearly all-organic meals. It was a classic Indian vegetarian dish, served with yogurt and papdums. Anna has one of those smiles that makes a person feel instantly comfortable and at-ease, and as Meghan and I chowed down, we felt home.

We learned that evening, sitting in the two-story house designed and built by Anna’s husband Lochy, about the Nook. Started in the 70s by Lochy’s parents, Vicky and Jaime, the nook is a converted hunting and tour lodge turned nursery, now housing four generations of Urqharts including wee little Matilda. It sounded strange to me at first to have so much family around, but the dynamic they have at the nook is pretty incredible. They all live in separate, self-contained buildings on the property and all have their own little herb and Vegie gardens. Almost all the food we ate was straight out of these gardens—fresh apples, pears, carrots, spinach, tomatoes, corn, beets, onions, pumpkin, and yellow squash. Anna is a musician, and a wonderful one at that, and has played shows and toured around Australia. Lochy, her husband, is a builder by trade, keen on using recycled material whenever possible. For a few years they both lived and worked in Australia, moving back when they heard of issues with Matilda.

Matilda was born with her gut organs (intestines, stomach, liver) outside of her body, a condition called omphalocele. Doctors in nz did an amazing job with her, using pig skin as a graft, they put everything back in it’s place. We came to find out that many kids in their region of Australia were born with this condition, and it was loosely tied with a pesticide, which really drove them to live a more organic lifestyle. That night, as we ate our dinner, was our first lesson on the benefits of eating organic, or, in this case, straight from the garden.

Lochy was away on a deer huntin trip when we arrived, so Anna showed us the ropes. We stayed in an old piky-esque caravan, like Brad Pitt on Snatch. No heat inside—-just a heap of blankets to keep out the chill of the autumn NZ air. A perfect compliment to our lifestyle the next two weeks.

The next morning we awoke to sunshine, a common theme of the following month, and met Anna for breakfast in the house. She had made an apple/pear/apricot crumble and served it piping hot from the oven alongside drag organic yogurt. Crumble for breakfast was absolutely revolutionary, with oats, fruit, and seeds it is good for you too. Meghan decided this would be all she ever needed for breakfast and learned the recipe by day 3.

We went out into the property that morning and harvested pears, apples, fed the pet dairy cow, and worked a bit on the gardens. With Matilda smiling from the backpack, we went around the property and looked at what jobs we would be doing during our stay.

For the next two weeks, we worked alongside Anna, Lochy and Matilda doing everything from moving dirt to mowing the lawns to cutting and preserving pears. We learned tons about sustainable living, and after eating two weeks without the white death of sugar and flour, we actually felt noticeably healthier.

Lochy returned later in the week and took us rabbit hunting, which we shot in the valley nearby. Each of us snagged one, skinned one, gutted one, and ate one in a fine Indian curry dish a couple days later. Lochy, like his dad who made elderberry wine, also showed us how to make alcoholic cider, which i hope to bring home with me to sunny Denver.

Our time at the Nook was good—-so good in fact that we hung around an extra week to take in more of the fresh Hawea air before we left for a trip south. It was an unforgettable two weeks, and we learned so much about making small changes to better our habits and met lifelong friends. That is what WWOOFing should be—-learning, making connections, working hard, and discovering something new from each side—- a perfect exchange.



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